Did You Know That This Museum in Ueno Was Designed by French Artist Le Corbusier?

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  • Le Corbusier is one of the greatest architects of the 20th century who built iconic buildings in France, Japan, and India. After the rampage of the Second World War, the cities of Europe and Japan required major renovations. Le Corbusier was a Swiss-born French architect who designed cities, built museums, etc., in a style we now call modern architecture.

    Even though he died in 1965 at the age of 77, his works remain standing, inspiring the world to this day. Did you know seventeen of his works are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list? One such work of him in Japan is the modern building of the National Museum of Western Art (NMWA; 国立西洋美術館) in Tokyo (東京).

    Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris

    Le Corbusier’s actual name is Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris; he was born in an artisan’s family in a small mountain town in Switzerland. He studied painting and architecture as a young student and later on, moved to Paris for career purposes.

    Le Corbusier was, in fact, the pioneer of the modern movement which started after the First World War. It is no exaggeration to say that modern villas in many countries are all inspired by his initial works. He built low-cost, durable, and stylish villas and residential complexes all across Europe. He also designed a Soviet-style trade center in Moscow, the UN headquarters, Orthodox Churches in France, contemporary villas for living, capitol buildings in India, a museum in Japan, student residences in South America, and so on. He is the one who started modular capsule-style apartment buildings which you see in many places around the world. He was revered as the father of the modern urban movement.

    The National Museum of Western Art

    Ueno Park (上野公園) in Tokyo is famous not only for its cherry blossoms but also for the National Museum of Western Art devoted to Western paintings and sculptures. It is considered as one of the best museums dedicated to art in Tokyo alongside the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT; 東京国立近代美術館).

    The main building of the NMWA was designed by Le Corbusier in 1959 as a symbol of Franco-Japanese friendship after the brutal Second World War. The museum itself is one of his best works in the Far East which rivaled Rodin’s sculptures and Picasso’s paintings.

    The museum consists of thousands of artworks of Western artists from as early as the 14th century onward. You can get to see how Western art transformed from the Renaissance period to World War II. Some of the famous Western artists whose works were put on display here are Picasso, Rodin, Veronese, Van Gogh, Monet, Delacroix, Goya, and others.

    Kojiro Matsukata (松方幸次郎)
    Replica of “The Gates of Hell” by Rodin at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

    The man behind the idea of the NMWA is Japanese businessman and art collector Kojiro Matsukata. He dreamed about having a Western-style museum in Tokyo with a huge collection of his favorite French and American artists.

    Matsukata was a big fan of Rodin and he actually bought the famous “The Gates of Hell” statue of Rodin in Paris. However, he could not bring it to Tokyo, so he brought a similar one made out of the original molds. It has the very famous “The Thinker” on top of the door entrance. Matsukata was also a close friend of another French artist, Monet, and he brought some of his famous works to Japan, too.

    Matsukata was one of the people who pushed the Franco-Japanese Treaty by bringing almost 370 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints belonging to very famous European artists as a gift for Tokyo people from France. He dreamed of a Tokyo that resembled the French Riviera, especially when it comes to art. He spent his own money in buying some stunning pieces of work, but he died even before the construction of the museum. The NMWA was built in his memory with even more cool collections of Western art than he had envisaged before. The museum was granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 2016, after the recommendation of the French Government.

    Step into the world of Western art by visiting this museum in Tokyo and get mesmerized by its beauty, craft, and elegance. There are various styles of Western art belonging to different artists which you can definitely enjoy.

    The National Museum of Western Art Website

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