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Collections: Japanese Art

Number of objects: more than 11,000
Historical range: 2,500 B.C.E. to present (primarily 8th–19th century)
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detail, The Thatched Hut of Dreaming of an Immortal

When Charles Lang Freer first encountered Asian art, he was particularly intrigued by Japanese paintings, stoneware ceramics, and tea-ceremony items. While other enthusiasts were focusing on popular collectibles such as netsuke, dolls, woodblock prints, and enameled porcelain, Freer's first Asian art purchase in 1887 was a painted Japanese fan. Between 1894 and 1911, Freer made four extended visits to Japan, and, by the time of his death in 1919, he had collected over two thousand works of Japanese art. Spanning more than four millennia, the Japanese art collection has grown in size since Freer's death, and is especially rich in paintings and ceramics from the twelfth to the nineteenth century.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • Buddhist paintings, calligraphy, and sculpture dating from the 7th–17th century
  • Calligraphy from the 8th–20th century
  • Narrative handscroll paintings from the 13th–18th century
  • Rimpa School paintings, including major works by the artists Hon’ami Koetsu (1558–1637) and Tawaraya Sotatsu (ca. 1600–1640)
  • Folding screens from the 15th–19th century
  • Ukiyo-e paintings depicting Japanese theater, pleasure quarters, and landscapes from the early 17th–19th century, highlighted by the world's premier collection of paintings by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
  • Select collections of lacquerwork, baskets, and textiles
  • Over 5,500 prints from the 18th–20th century, and 19th–20th century photographs of Japan
  • Premodern ceramics, including 14th–19th century glazed ceramics from the Seto and Mino regions, tea-ceremony wares, medieval storage jars, and the largest selection of ceramics outside of Japan by Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743) and followers of the "Kenzan" style
  • Twentieth-century and contemporary works, including ceramics, lacquerwork, sculpture, paper works, and photographs

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