From the Japanese Collection of Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński

09.10.2022 - 03.05.2023

Exhibition script and design: Anna Król Graphic interventions and cooperation: Kaja Mucha
The Manggha Museum hosts the first in a series of exhibitions of items from the Japanese collection of Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński (1861–1929), one of the greatest Polish collectors and patrons of the arts.

Jasieński’s collection counts over 15,000 items, including exquisite works of Polish Modernism (paintings by Malczewski, Wyspiański, Podkowiński, Pankiewicz, Wyczółkowski, Weiss, Boznańska, Stanisławski, Ślewiński, and others); European prints (by Rembrandt, Goya, Redon, and Gauguin, among others); and also unique assemblies of textiles, folk art, handicraft, and furniture.

Its Far Eastern core is a group of 7000 objects of Japanese art and crafts: 4,600 woodblock prints (Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, Kuniyoshi), about 1,000 militaria, a small assembly of paintings, sculptures and ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, bronze wares, and many other items. There are also objects from China, India, and Indonesia.

Jasieński’s assemblies of Japanese items are not a typical “nineteenth-century collection”, as they are often described. How are they unique then? As aptly observed by Ewa Machotka, landscape themes are the distinctive characteristic of Feliks Jasieński’s collection. Landscape being one of the major motifs in the art of the Young Poland movement, these works may have had a decisive influence on it. Machotka points to other factors that may also have been relevant: “On the one hand, the 19th-century industrialization and urbanization brought a new significance to the representation of nature and, on the other, it served as a vehicle for nationalist sentiments.”

From the point of view of nineteenth-century practices in art collecting, Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński’s collection is unique. It was built according to a precisely defined programme or agenda, which presupposed an inspiring and creative role of Japanese art in relation to contemporary Polish art: “to the Polish collector, Japan looms as the ultimate socio-cultural model, which should be emulated in Poland.”

Any collection can be interpreted as a work of art in itself, and the collector can be considered its author. This is actually how Jasieński’s collection can be perceived, to recognize the personality and creative intention in this unique “work of art”. We also have Jasieński to thank for the existence of specific paintings created by his inspiration and encouragement.

In 1920 Jasieński gave his collection to the ‘Municipality of the Capital Royal City of Krakow’. It was intended for the National Museum in Krakow. However, his greatest dream was “a Japanese Museum in Krakow”, which he believed would be “the best lesson for Polish artists and Polish society: this is how we should create art in our own land, for ourselves; this is how we should need art, love it, venerate its creators.” The dream came true when the initiative of Andrzej Wajda and Krystyna Zachwatowicz-Wajda led to the construction of the Manggha Museum on a bank of the Vistula in Krakow in 1994, where Jasieński’s Japanese collection has been deposited ever since.

The exhibition shows selected items from the Japanese collection of Feliks Jasieński – paintings, lacquerware, ceramics, cloisonné enamels, and bronze wares – in which broadly defined nature is the dominating theme, mostly depictions of flowers and birds. The crane (tsuru 鶴) is the leitmotif. The image of the crane, a symbol of long and happy life, is placed on folding screens, kimono, ceramics, and lacquerware. It can be seen during many important events in Japan, such as births, weddings, and New Year celebrations, as a sure augury of good fortune.
Anna Król
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