Smithsonian Gets Japanese Print Collection

Associated Press Writer

May 22, 2003, 7:25 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- A top American connoisseur has left the Smithsonian Institution his collection of more than 4,000 Japanese color prints from the late 1800s and the 1900s, a surprise bequest worth millions of dollars.

It will take some months to prepare a public exhibition, museum officials said. They only learned when Robert O. Muller's will was read that he intended to give them his pictures, which dealers had tried hard to buy before his death.

"It came to us like bolt of lightning," said James Ulak, chief curator of the Smithsonian's two galleries of Asian art. "We're still unpacking. Our exhibition space is very much committed, but we're trying to do some juggling."

Because the donor wanted his pictures to be appreciated as a whole, the Robert O. Muller Collection will be kept separately in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Muller, of Newtown, Conn., died April 10 at 91. He had been collecting Japanese prints since he was 20, and dealing in them for most of his life except during World War II, when Japanese art was unpopular.

He had a gallery in New York, and later in New Haven, Conn.

"This is the benchmark collection for understanding so many of the amazing things that happened to Japanese graphic art in the 20th century," said Julian Raby, director of both the Sackler and the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian.

Japanese prints of the 1700s and early 1800s inspired the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists of both Europe and America, including Paul Cezanne and James McNeill Whistler.

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press