Media only: Barbara Kram: 202.633.0520
Public only: 202.357.2700

A major collection of Japanese prints from the estate of Robert O. Muller of Newtown, Conn., has been bequeathed to the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, made the announcement of the gift May 21.

Muller, who died on April 10 at the age of 91, had assembled over a period of 70 years a collection of more than 4,000 Japanese prints ranging in date from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Internationally exhibited and widely published, the Robert O. Muller Collection has long been regarded by art historians, collectors and curators as the finest of its type in the world. The collection had many suitors and Muller’s intentions for its disposition were not clear until the reading of his will.

“This is the benchmark collection for understanding so many of the amazing things that happened in Japanese graphic art in the 20th century,” said Raby. “We are profoundly grateful to Robert Muller for entrusting the Sackler Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution with the remarkable legacy of his prescience, tenacity and uncompromising vision. He assembled a thoroughly beautiful collection that will delight the eye of any visitor and, of course, is of great importance to social and art historians. The appeal of these works is clearly universal.”

In addition to more than 4,000 woodblock prints, Muller’s extensive cataloging records, papers and library will be located in the Sackler. This material will constitute an important archive for research into the history of modern Japanese print movements. Muller’s friendships with many of Japan’s master print designers active in the 1930s is extensively recorded in his papers.

Officially to be known as the Robert O. Muller Collection, the print collection will be housed as a discrete unit within the larger Sackler collection, respecting the intentions of Mr. Muller that his collection be understood and appreciated as a whole. Plans for an exhibition of representative prints, establishment of a dedicated research center and a related fellowship program for researchers are now under way.

The Collection is particularly rich in works by designers who adapted traditional, idealized print subjects-theater, the pleasure quarters, bird-and-flower and landscape-to modern tastes. Among the works of Ito Shinsui (1898-1972), the pristine Muller impression of a pensive courtesan has been exhibited to acclaim in Europe and the United States. The camp of vamping kabuki actors in male and female roles are presented in exceptional designs by Yoshikawa Kanpo (1894-1979) and Natori Shunsen (1886-1960). The romanticized country and city views of Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) are represented in near completeness and in superb condition. Bird-and-flower print artist Ohara Koson (1877-1945) is the subject of a major book in which many Muller prints were used as illustrations. In addition, the Collection includes fine impressions of the major works of Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) whose innovative techniques and stunning designs tackled the challenge presented by the emerging success of photography in the late 19th century.

“Bob’s eye was wonderfully attuned to graphic subtleties,” said James Ulak, Freer and Sackler’s chief curator. He was totally immersed in the beauty of his prints and loved nothing more than to find an empathetic viewer to share those pleasures. The collection, as it now stands, is the culmination of a lifetime of extremely judicious selecting and pruning. It is an incredible and generous gift to the nation.”

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at

Members of the press are invited to a behind the scenes viewing of the Robert O. Muller Collection at the Sackler Gallery. Please contact Barbara Kram at 202.357.4880, ext. 219 or for more information.