Japanese Art

„As always, the beauty of the artworks interested us, rather than their value on the art market.“
Marianne Langen

The Japan Collection of Viktor and Marianne Langen is one of a kind in Europe, both in terms of scope and quality. With approximately 350 works, it offers a representative overview of Japanese art from the twelfth to the twentieth century. The collection encompasses not only religious art, but also ceramic pieces from the prehistoric Jōmon era and Buddhist statues from the Nara and Heian periods. The broad spectrum found in the collection’s inventory of painting ranges from examples of court painting of the Kano school, by way of works from renowned artists such as Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795), to the genre painting of the nineteenth century.

Like all facets of Viktor and Marianne Langen’s collection, their Japan Collection has been solely influenced by the personal taste of the married couple. In contrast to other collectors of Japanese art, they acquired these artworks not from the European art market but rather directly from the country of origin. Starting in the early 1960s, Viktor Langen travelled to Japan on business. Generally interested in other cultures, the art collector was fascinated by Japanese art and decided to acquire some lovely pieces, which was a bold undertaking since in the early 1960s neither a noteworthy national market for Japanese art nor an international one existed. Equipped with good contacts and an interpreter, Viktor Langen sought and found the few merchants and gallerists in the whole country who sold Japanese art. He and his wife agreed to concentrate on purchasing “unique objects”. Edition works like woodcuts were not taken into consideration at all.

In 1979 Viktor and Marianne Langen established a private museum for the Japanese scrolls in their home in Ascona, Switzerland, where the works were displayed in dimly lit rooms. In the early 1990s, after the passing of Viktor Langen, his wife Marianne had the collection valued and scientifically assessed by Japanese art experts, who reached the conclusion “that two-thirds of the works were of the highest quality” (Marianne Langen).

One final outstanding work of Japanese art was added to the collection in 2004: the Langen Foundation exhibition venue designed by Tadao Ando. Marianne Langen called the building, which she sadly did not live to see completed, “the largest work of art that I have ever purchased”.

A first comprehensive exhibition of the Japan Collection was presented under the title Herbstwind in den Kiefern (Autumn Wind in the Pines) at Cologne’s Museum of East Asian Art in 1998–99. The exhibition later toured to the Kunsthalle Tübingen, the Museum for Art and Trade, Hamburg, and to various museums throughout Japan.