Cone Collection to visit Japan Exhibit: Sixty-five works by Henri Matisse, the great French artist, will lead the tour. Art by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso also will be included.

June 28, 1996|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

An exhibition of the Baltimore Museum of Art's renowned Cone Collection will travel overseas for the first time this fall -- when the museum sends to Japan a selection of works including 65 paintings, sculptures and drawings by Henri Matisse, the museum announced yesterday.

"It is an honor -- instead of being one of several loans in an overall exhibition on Matisse -- to really focus on the Cone Collection," said BMA Director Arnold Lehman. "The Japanese are very interested in telling the story of these two sisters who made the collection possible, and for us, it really helps to focus some renewed attention on Baltimore."

The exhibition, which also will include major works by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso, first will travel to Tokyo's Isetan Museum of Art, where it will stay through December. Afterward, it will move to the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art -- 275 miles southwest of Tokyo -- where it will be shown until Feb. 11, 1997.

"This is very important," says Toshitsugu Uesawa, cultural attache in the Embassy of Japan in Washington. "This is part of the internationalization of our nation, so this will be very, very popular in Japan."

The Cone Collection was amassed by Baltimoreans Claribel and Etta Cone in the first half of this century and is considered to be among the world's best collections of modern art.

The sisters traveled worldwide collecting items, from Egyptian reliquaries and Hindu necklaces to textiles spun with gold (which they wore) -- and creations by European master artists.

Of works by Matisse alone, they bought 42 oil paintings, 18 sculptures, 36 drawings, 155 prints, seven illustrated books and the 250 drawings, prints and copper plates from the book "Poesies de Stephane Mallarme."

While the exhibition is on tour, the Matisse gallery, as it is known, will be the site of another exhibit -- the topic of which will be announced soon. (The last day to see the 73 works before they travel is Sept. 8.)

The Japanese exhibition will include several Matisses of art historical significance, according to Lehman. Among them are the "Purple Robe and Anemones," "Blue Nude" and "Large Reclining Nude" (also known as the "Pink Nude").

"Blue Nude," in particular, evokes intense reactions from viewers, Lehman says. In 1913, for example, when it traveled with the New York Armory show, Chicago art students found it so provocative that they burned it in effigy.

In recent decades, Impressionist and post-Impressionist painters have enjoyed increasing popularity in Japan. In the late 1980s, as prices skyrocketed, Japanese collectors and companies scooped them up.

In 1990, Ryoei Saito, a paper company, paid a record $82.5 million for Vincent van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet."

"It largely has to do with a Japanese awareness that their own artists, particularly wood-block artists, played a role in informing the Impressionists' ideas about form," says Mark Sandler, a Japanese art scholar who lives in Silver Spring.

"There's a certain positive sense of connection that endears the works to the Japanese -- a kind of kinship or resonance."

The paintings also are good investments. "At the time of what we call the 'bubble economy' -- when the Japanese economy was at its peak -- many companies invested by buying art. It's closely linked with image enhancement, I think," says Uesawa.

The exhibition, called "Matisse and Modern Masters from the Cone Collection," is being sponsored by several companies, including Isetan Company Ltd., known for its high-end department stores.

The crowds expected in Japan are large enough to make American museum directors jump for joy.

This year, the BMA will draw about 350,000 people. But in 5 1/2 months, the two Japanese museums expect 500,000 viewers.

Recalling the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's successful 1994 Japanese tour, Lehman said: "I was a little envious, to be honest. The Japanese are a tough audience, very sophisticated and cosmopolitan. I loved hearing about the symphony's reception there and how it mirrored and reflected our city. I think the same will be true of the Cone Collection."

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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