POLA star shines bright in Hakone

by Tai Kawabata

The POLA Museum of Art is celebrating its first anniversary, and its excellent exhibition — “Paris, City of Artists” — capitalizes on the museum’s fine standing collection, proving just what an asset the POLA is to the the hot-spring resort area of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Visitors are first struck by the museum even before stepping inside. Its architecturally daring design — a large cross-shaped structure embedded in a densely wooded mountainous area — gives visitors a panoramic view of the vicinity and the surrounding 300-year-old beech trees.

What’s inside is no less striking. The museum’s collection was built up over 40 years by the late Tsuneshi Suzuki (1930-2000), former president of POLA Cosmetics Inc. It comprises some 9,500 works, both Western and Japanese, which include Impressionist masterpieces, woodblock prints and sculpture, as well as earthenware, glass art and cosmetic utensils.

The 70 works displayed in “Paris, City of Artists,” are all from the museum’s own collection.

The exhibits span more than a century of art inspired by the French capital, from Monet’s “Train Tracks at Saint-Lazare Station” (1877), which captures the sound and movement of the steam locomotives then transforming long-distance travel, to Hiroshi Okutani’s “Blue Roofs of Paris” (1994), with its striking, royal blue coloration.

The core of the exhibition is a selection of works by painters said to belong to the Ecole de Paris, a term covering those movements in modern painting that followed Impressionism and were centered on Paris during the first four decades of the 20th century.

The exhibits include works by such prominent artists as Pablo Picasso, Raoul Dufy, Amadeo Modigliani and Marc Chagall, as well as intriguing pieces by less well-known figures, such as Jules Pascin, Leonard Foujita and Marie Laurencin (a major retrospective of whose work was recently shown at the Teien Art Museum in Toyko’s Shirokanedai).

In the first room, setting the theme of the exhibition, is Dufy’s gaily colored “Paris” (1937), composed of four vertical canvases each measuring 1.9 × 0.5 meters. The work offers a bird’s-eye view of the Capital of Art bathed in both sunshine and moonlight.

Although Picasso is represented by only two early works, “Seated Woman” and “Street Scene” (both dated 1905), the pieces testify to the then 19-year-old Picasso’s precocious ability to express the inner nature of his subject.

While most artists are represented by a handful of paintings, Chagall fans are treated to an entire roomful of the Russian-born artist’s brightly colored and intensely romantic canvases. The viewer is immersed in the world of the artist’s native Vitebsk (in present-day Belarus), and the inspiration Chagall drew from his beloved wife Bella glows from a number of tender paintings.

Utrillo is represented by nine pieces, most of them characteristic of his urban street scenes. Of particular interest is “La Belle Gabrielle” (1912), from the artist’s “white” period, which is unusual not only for the inclusion of human figures, but also for its depiction of the artist himself — writing graffiti on a house wall!

The works by the Japanese artists give visitors the pleasure of sharing in a different perspective on France. Six pieces by Foujita, characterized by the artist’s “grand fond blanc” (a milky white oil-on-canvas background that attempts to re-create the texture of paper and silk used in Japanese paintings), offer a quirky view of French life, especially French children.

Following these (and after a room featuring pieces by Kees Van Dongen and Moise Kisling, including the latter’s 1927 “Mademoiselle Falconetti” in her eye-catching red dress) is a room devoted to paintings by other Japanese artists who depicted Paris.

Spanning the period from 1914 to 1994, as well as a remarkable range of styles, the highlight of this assortment is three paintings by Yuzo Saeki (1898-1928), whose works have become quite rare. His dark, brooding scenes perfectly capture the gloom and chill of Paris’ back streets.

And if you’ve never been to Paris, don’t worry. Eight large photo panels showing scenes from Montmartre and the Bois de Boulogne, the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysees are included to help familiarize the viewer with the city as it was from 1908 to 1914. Let this fine exhibition transport you from the wooded beauty of Hakone to the grime and glitter of Paris.