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European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in The National Art Center, Tokyo

The National Art Center, Tokyo is holding an exhibition titled European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York with 65 masterpieces from The Met’s European paintings collection are on display, 46 of which include debuts in Japan.
This is a valuable opportunity to see the masterpieces of the giants of European art, spanning 500 years from early Renaissance paintings of the 15th century to Post-Impressionists of the 19th century.

Relax and Appreciate the Masterpieces of the World-Famous Museums
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, founded in 1870, is one of the world’s leading museums that is on par with the Louvre and more. It houses a collection of over 1,500,000 archaeological artifacts and works of art from every region of the world, spanning more than 5,000 years from prehistoric times to the present.
Founded through the tenacious efforts of private citizens such as businessmen, wealthy individuals, and artists, they sought out on a mission to encourage and develop the fine arts and the education thereof for the people of America.
Since the founding of the museum, the collection has continued to expand through donations, bequests, and purchases, currently boasting over 2,500 paintings from European countries spanning the 13th to the early 20th century.

As the works in this exhibition are all masterpieces, the time you spend in front of one work may tend to be longer than usual. However, with admission to the venue being controlled by date and time to avoid crowding along with plenty of space for viewers, you can relax and enjoy the show in many ways.
Now, let’s take a look at the highlights of each chapter of this three-chapter exhibition.

Ⅰ. Devotion and Renaissance
Chapter I, “Devotion and Renaissance,” presents 17 works by leading painters of the Italian and Northern Renaissance, most of which are being shown for the first time in Japan.
Italian Renaissance painters have developed realistic, three-dimensional means of expression, taking their inspiration from classical antiquity. In contrast to the rather flat depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary typical of the Middle Ages— which were otherworldly images that emphasized their sanctity—Renaissance paintings were inclined to render them as fully rounded human figures.
In The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, the gold-filled background makes for a less than realistic setting; however, he captures physical depth with an elliptical arrangement of the crowd that recedes into the distance as Christ appears to be portrayed as a human being.

Meanwhile, in northern Europe such as Germany and the Netherlands, the demand for mythological paintings and portraits has increased compared to that of religious paintings.
In The Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder, he depicted the three goddesses Juno, Minerva, and Venus from different angles of the side, front, and back with the figures being beautiful and sensual.


Ⅱ. Absolutism and Enlightenment
Chapter II, “Absolutism and Enlightenment,” presents 30 masterpieces by artists from various countries who were active from the 17th century, a period in which Europe’s absolute monarchs reasserted their sovereign power, all the way to the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment.
At the start of the 17th century, characterized by strong light-and-shade contrasts and dramatic, vivid depictions, the expression of the Baroque style served to proclaim the two loci of power of sacredness and secularity: the Roman Catholic Church and the absolute monarchies.
Italian master Caravaggio played a dominant role in the formation of the Baroque style with his true-to-life portrayals and dramatic interplay of light and shadow. In The Musicians, it depicts a musical and theatrical gathering held at the residence of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, the first patron of Caravaggio.

The Dutch Republic, with its developed civil society and different types of painting, including landscapes, still life, and general paintings of everyday life, created independent genres, ushering in a new phase of art history.
While Johannes Vermeer is famous for his genre paintings, the Allegory of the Catholic Faith on display is an unusual allegorical painting among his works, from which we can see the gestures and attributes/symbols of the person drawn on the canvas with great interest.


Ⅲ. Revolution and Art for the People
Chapter 3, “Revolution and Art for the People,” introduces 18 masterpieces by artists who have brought numerous innovations to painting against the backdrop of the development of civil society in the turbulent 19th century when the wave of modernization swept through the world.
At the end of the 18th century, the French Revolution marked a turning point in the establishment of modern society, not only in France but in all of Europe, as new trends in art emerged one after another in response to the rapid changes in society. The first half of the 19th century saw the rise of Romanticism, and by the middle of the century, Realism was flourishing. This trend was later inherited by Manet and Degas, along with the paintings of Monet and Renoir, who would become known as Impressionists in the 1870s.

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, which is featured in this exhibition, is a large painting with rough brushstrokes that contrasts the fiction of the sky and plants reflected in the pond water with the reality of water lilies on the surface of the water and is said to be a pioneer of abstract expression. As Monet was suffering from eye problems when he painted it, this work has been imbued with a mysterious atmosphere that is said to be from a vision he had in his mind.

In Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Pears, the desk is tilted while the wall seems to be distorted, yet the apples and pears maintain a strong presence with all the elements in the picture in perfect balance. Due to the groundbreaking style, Cézanne’s works enjoyed little popularity among the masses at the time; however, Cézanne began to have an enormous influence on cubism and other avant-garde movements in the early 20th century after his death.

Why not experience the pleasure of traveling through 500 years of Western painting with masterpieces, many of which have never been shown in Japan before?

Title European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Period February 9 (Wed.) – May 30 (Mon.), 2022
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo
Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
Address 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558
Official Website https://met.exhn.jp/en/
Opening Hours 10:00-18:00 (Last admission 17:30)
*10:00-20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Closed Tuesdays
*Open on May 3 (Tue.), 2022
Ticket Information In order to ease congestion, an Advance Reservation System for “specified date/time tickets” has been implemented. For more information regarding tickets, please visit the ticket page on the exhibition website.(These services are only available in Japanese.)
Admission Adults:2,100yen
College students:1,400yen
High school students:1,000yen