It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet.

Kojiro Tomita

With a wave of his straw hat, gracious, gangling Director George Harold Edgell, of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts stepped into the gondola of a police motor-cycle at Cunard’s Pier in East Boston last month and went popping through the Sumner Tunnel to Huntington Avenue and the Museum. Behind him in two bunting-draped trucks rumbled the most valuable collection of Japanese art ever to have left Japan. It was the nucleus of an exhibition which opened this week, and which should rival in importance London’s great Chinese art exhibition of last winter.

When Professor Edgell, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Architecture and an outstanding authority on Sienese painting, finally broke his longtime connection with Harvard University to take over a full-time job as Director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, he realized that the Museum, which cannot compete with New York’s Metropolitan in most departments, had acquired during the past 50 years the finest collection of Oriental art in the U. S. The section of Japanese art was particularly strong and the Curator of Asiatic Art, Kojiro Tomita, was one of the greatest authorities on Japanese art in the U. S. The Museum did not have space to exhibit more than a quarter of its Oriental collection.

Thinking of ways to call Boston’s attention to all this, Curator Tomita and Director Edgell hit upon the notion of borrowing a lot more Japanese Art and giving a big show in conjunction with Harvard’s Tercentenary. President Count Kentaro Kaneko (Class of 1878) of the Harvard Club of Tokyo collaborated enthusiastically. So did the Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, the Society for International Cultural Relations. Curator Tomita, who knows all the first-rank collectors in Japan, went to Tokyo in April. Director Edgell arrived in May, charmed the Japanese by laying flowers on the tomb of Professor Ernest Fenollosa, who gave the Museum of Fine Arts some of its earliest and best Japanese items, turned Buddhist, went to Japan to die.

Messrs. Edgell and Tomita knew their project was a success when Emperor Hirohito let it be known that he was willing to lend several of his own personal pieces to Boston, would permit the exporting of a certain number of “National Treasures” from state museums. A deluge of offers followed. Director Edgell, whose personal knowledge of Japanese art is rudimentary, left the selection to his associate Mr. Tomita, spent 26 days drinking tea and saki with Japanese wrestlers, silk tycoons, bankers, enjoyed himself immensely.

One hundred and thirty-eight different objects were finally selected, packed in special cases by Yamanaka & Co.’s two most expert packers, shipped to Boston on the Katsuragi Mam. A large proportion of the objects were uninsured. “Money does not interest us,” the wealthy owners insisted. “What we want is to get our things back, uninjured.”

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,756636,00.html

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