Dream Worlds

Modern Japanese Prints and Paintings from the Robert O. Muller Collection

It was a casual glance towards a window display on West 57th Street in Manhattan, in 1931, that lured me into the world of the Japanese print. In the showcase were several landscape prints by Kawase Hasui, renderings that spoke to my youthful experience of nature.  Here was someone who felt rain and snow and evening sky as I did, directly, without symbolic interpretation.  At the Shima Art Company, on the fifth floor, I, a tie-less and typically unkept young student, was greeted by the proprietor, Mr. Hango Sumii. With great patience he explained the technique of printmaking and the meaning of the mysterious ideograms on the margins of the prints.  He showed me more prints, and still more–landscapes and bird-and-flower subjects, a magic garden of beauty, all available for acquisition.  To part with five dollars, in those Depression days, was a serious business for a young man, especially as it just equaled my allowance; and I had no guide or precedent to lead me other than my feeling for nature , observed as an avid bird watcher. But the prints were irresistible. One led to the next, and then the next, and so the collection was started, growing almost of its own self.

–Robert O. Muller

Muller and his wife, during their 1940 honeymoon trip to Japan, in the garden of artist Itō Shinsui’s Tokyo home, flanked by major figures of the shin hanga movement. Left to right, back row: Moriyama Tesutaro (assistant to publisher Watanabe); Shinsui and his wife, Itō Yoshiko. Left to right, front row: artist Kasamatsu Shirō and publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō.

Photographer unknown;
from the Robert O. Muller Papers,
Freer Gallery of Art
and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Arcives,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC