...numerous masterpieces of
woodblock printing, many of
which are nearly impossible to
find in such fine condition today..."
In autumn 2013, the Met acquired a fine private collection of Japanese illustrated books of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Artists represented in the collection include Utamaro, Hokusai, and Hiroshige, who are best known today for their woodblock prints, but who also excelled at illustrations for deluxe poetry anthologies and popular literature. In one fell swoop, the Met now has a superb collection of Japanese books to complement its excellent holdings in paintings and prints of the Edo period (1615–1868).
These Japanese books were acquired over the course of sixty years by the distinguished Boston collectors Arthur (1922–2012) and Charlotte (1924–2000) Vershbow. The Vershbows had also assembled a collection of Western rare books and prints, considered one of the finest in private hands, which was dispersed at auction at Christie's New York. The Japanese collection, kept together as a wish of the heirs, is particularly strong in works by ukiyo-e artists, but includes representative examples of all the various schools of Japanese art. Included in the collection of some 250 titles—more than 400 volumes—are numerous masterpieces of woodblock printing, many of which are nearly impossible to find in such fine condition today. The Vershbows also sought to discover books with a distinguished provenance, and thus many of the volumes can be traced back to the great fin de siècle Paris collections of Tadamasa Hayashi, Louis Gonse, Edmund de Goncourt, and E. Gillet, among others.
John T. Carpenter
Department of Asian Art