From the Japanese collection of Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński. Fuji and Other Mountains

18.05.2023 - 05.11.2023

Opening: 17.05.2023, 18.00

The Manggha Museum hosts the second 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. Mount Fuji, and more generally mountains and waterfalls, are the show’s governing theme.

Initially, Jasieński was active in Warsaw, where in 1900 he paired up with Zenon Przesmycki to found the art magazine Chimera, whose publications included articles on Japanese art and reproductions of woodblock prints by such masters as Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro. The collector’s primary goal was to educate Polish society, to prepare it to appreciate the arts of both the West and the East. Jasieński appealed to and dared the public: “Let us learn from the Japanese… how to be Polish.”

In late February and early March 1901, the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Warsaw held the first display of Japanese art from Jasieński’s impressive collection in its library. It was also Poland’s first exhibition to provide an overview of all the domains of Japanese art: paintings, woodblock prints, and decorative arts. The show met with incomprehension on the part of the public and an assault from the critics, helpless in the face of an entirely different aesthetic, and the exhibition was surrounded by an aura of scandal, hysteria and aggression. The man who authored it, that imperious “educator of Polish society”, reacted “according to his temperament”, standing in defence of “Japanese art defiled by profanes, art that is the adornment of museums the world over.”

Discouraged and frustrated by this failure, Jasieński left Warsaw and took his collection to Krakow, where he started another stage in his campaign for Japanese art, which had a major influence on the art of the Young Poland movement and proved seminal for Polish Japanism. In early 1902, he took lodging in the house at 1 St John’s Street, on the corner of the Market Square, and soon the place became one of the most important addresses in Krakow.

Jasieński’s collection counts 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 7,000 objects of Japanese art and crafts: 4,600 woodblock prints, 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.

The main focus of the collector’s interest was the oeuvre of Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), which consequently accounts for much of the collection, coming to 2,020 prints. These include the artist’s famous landscape series, such as: The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, and Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. And although the work of Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is not as well represented, we can find iconic series in it, e.g. his take on Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and the legendary Hokusai’s Sketches (Hokusai manga), from which Jasieński took his artistic sobriquet. The collection also includes sets of works by other ukiyo-e artists, such as Utamaro, Kuniyoshi, Kunisada, and Sharaku.

As aptly observed by Ewa Machotka, landscape themes are the distinctive characteristic of Feliks Jasieński’s collection, which is probably why “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.” Jasieński perceived Modernist art solely in national terms, which is why his collection became an element of impacting – and even manipulating – Polish society.

In 1920 Jasieński gifted his collection to the city of Krakow, which then transferred it to the National Museum. 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 1994, where Jasieński’s Japanese collection has been deposited ever since.

And above the isles, and above the clouds, like a mighty and fierce sovereign, rules Mount Fuji – a volcano atrocious in the past, now mute.
A giant, formed as a cone whose peak is covered with snow – for ages past – for ages to come.
A giant, visible from everywhere, full of might and majesty, silent and yet commanding fearful awe – awe and worship. […]
There has probably never been, and never will be in the history of human art, a subject more popular, a subject whose elaboration would or could yield such a number of works of art of such quality, and yet so diverse in individual approaches, and with respect to the materials in which the ideas are captured.
Fuji is almost Japan herself; Fuji in Japanese art is almost Japanese art itself.
Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński, 1911

The Japanese Archipelago is part of a submarine mountain chain rising from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean above the water level, a fact that makes mountains and highlands 90% of its surface. Their highest peak is Fuji (3,776 m asl), with a summit covered in snow all year round. Its distinctive shape has fascinated people, aroused awe and fear, and above all stimulated religious feelings – Buddhist and Shintoist alike. It was considered a sacred mountain with a divine appearance. Its sight inspired poets, authors and artists. It features in Hokusai and Hiroshige’s prints in various ways and forms, which may be indicative that both artists engaged in experimentation, playing a kind of artistic game with the mountain, which resulted in original pictorial compositions that transformed the art of the West.

The exhibition shows depictions of the sacred mountain from the most celebrated series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai, including the innovative Thunderstorm beneath the Summit, in addition to One Hundred Famous Views of Mount Fuji, and also works from Hiroshige’s series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

Other mountains – menacing, posing an obstacle to those who travel along the road from Edo to Kyoto – surface in Hiroshige’s masterly series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. They are interspersed with views of waterfalls from various provinces of Japan.
Anna Król

a waterfall at a distance
so fresh beneath the clouds
voices from the valley
Takarai Kikaku (1661–1707)

summertime mountains
famous views
whichever way you look
Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902)

misty drizzle
no Fuji in view today
how fascinating
Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

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