Art Deco at its best
or: Where French savoir-vivre meets Japanese craftsmanship
The Teien Art Museum (the “Tōkyō Metropolitan Teien Art Museum” (東京都庭園美術館 / とうきょうとていえんびじゅつかん) – to be precise) in Tōkyō’s central Minato district (港区 / みなとく) is not just a place for indulgence in exquisite art, but at the same time its main building is also a true gem of Art Deco (For the non-Frenchmen among us, “Art Deco” is the abbreviated version of the French “arts décoratifs”, which stands for “decorative/ornamental art”). And this part of the museum’s compound is what this posting is all about.
Who would come up with the idea that such a exemplary manifestation of this rather short period of art can be found here, of all places – in a city where hardly any building has survived either the Great Earthquake of 1923 or the air raids of World War II? But it is here, where the strict forms of modern times mingle with what Art Deco is all about: a devotion to beauty, to premium materials and a strong hint of sensuality. One could say that in Art Deco the standards, as set by Art Nouveau a few decades before, live on.
The Entrance Hall with René Lalique’s Glass Sculptures:
(Please click on one of the icons below to start a slide show.)
Whilst, since 1983, the Teien Art Museum had been a magnet for everyone who wasn’t just interested in art exhibitions “fitting the style of the building” but also in the building as such, only the comprehensive restoration work that has been completed in November 2014, has revealed the true charm and splendour of the interior design as it was opened in 1933 as a princely residence.
The Great Hall:
It was Prince Asaka Yasuhiko (朝香宮鳩彦王 / あさかのみややすひこおう), of the Asaka-branch of the Imperial Family (which he had founded in 1906), who had this residence built. Even though it should not go without saying that Prince Asaka has made his entries in the books of history as a rightwing militarist and with a rather inglorious chapter related to the so called “Nanking Massacre”, this posting is less about the person, but about the architectural and stylistic achiement which he had ordered in his days. And if you wonder why it had to be a villa in the lush style of Art Deco, keep on reading…
The Anteroom & Perfume Tower:
In order to complete his military education he had gone to France in 1922 where he studied at the “École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr”. Lamentably, he became victim of a car accident on 1st of April 1923 and was so seriously injured (his cousin, who was with him at that time, even lost his life), that his wife, Princess Nobuko (鳩彦王妃允子内親王 / やすひこおうひのぶこないしんのう) (the eighth daughter/twelfth child of the Meiji emperor), rushed to France to take care of him. He survived the injuries, but the accident left him with a limp for the rest of his live. But at the same time, the accident also had some rather positive impact on the imperial couple: The long period of convalescence kept them in France for much longer than they had initially intended. And that allowed especially Princess Nobuko to develop a particular fondness for Art Deco. Hence, when they returned to Japan in 1925 there was only one style that they could take into consideration when their residence in the Japanese capital was built – it had to be Art Deco, a style so much “en vogue” in these days. Princess Nobuko devoted herself to all sorts of small details during the planning and construction of the house – it became “her” house in some way. Sadly, luck didn’t seem to come her way – shortly after the building was completed, she died in November 1933.
Not only was “state of the art” technique used for the construction of the prince’s palace, particular attention was also paid to the quality of materials used for the interior decoration. Quite a few of the materials were not to be had in Japan and had to be shipped in from all over the world. Nevertheless, the use of exquisit materials alone would not have been a guarantee for the accomplishment of this highlight of Art Deco on Japanese soil. We owe it to the rather unparalleled collaboration of the exquisit taste of French designers (here, Henri Rapin should be mentioned in the first place, as he was the one in charge of the main rooms’ and halls’ interior design – but also not forgetting Ivan-Léon Blanchot and René Lalique) and the skill of the Japanese craftsmen, guided and supervised by the Imperial Household Ministry. Also quite interesting: Rapin never put a foot on Japanese grounds – even in times that lacked the conveniences of the internet or skype, it was obviously possible to communicate and collaborate beyond language barriers and across continents.
The Great Dining Hall:
After the war, Prince Asaka and his children lost their imperial status and privileges and became ordinary citizens in 1947. The building and the spacious park around it was seized by the government. From 1947 to 1950 the building was officially used as the residence of the foreign minister, and occupied by Yoshida Shigeru (吉田茂 / よしだしげる) who served simultaneously as prime minister and foreign minister but who understandably preferred the former Prince Asaka residence to the official prime minister’s residence. For a while, it also served as an official state guest house but was eventually sold to the Seibu railroad company (Seibu Tetsudō K.K. / 西武鉄道株式会社 / せいぶてつどうかぶしきかいしゃ). The city of Tōkyō bought the complex in 1981 and transformed it into an art museum that was handed over to the public in 1983.
The Small Dining Room:
When the former residence was rededicated in 1983 as an art gallery some stylistic changes had to be applied, which have been (greatly) undone during the course of the renovation that was completed in 2014. Nevertheless, not all rooms’ wallpapers could be re-instated to their original splendour, which – in the early 1980s – seemed unfitting to the requirements of a place for art exhibitions (the works of art would have had a hard time to compete with the lush wall decorations). Luckily, some samples of the old wallpapers could be rescued and are on display in some of the rooms.
The Main Staircase & the 2nd Floor Hall:
Residential Quarters on the 2nd Floor:
And here some technical data of the main building:
- Building area: 1,048.29 sqm
- Total floor area: 2,100.47 sqm
- Structure: Reinforced concrete 3 stories above ground, 1 below ground
- Architectural Design: Bureau of Skilled Artisans of the Imperial Household Ministry under the direction of Yōkichi Gondō (権藤要吉 / ごんどうようきち)
- Interior Design: Henri Rapin (great hall, salon with perfume tower, great dining hall, small dining room, prince’s study)
- Year of completion: 1933
Furthermore, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Teien Art Museum also features a modern exhibition complex that is connected to the main building via a corridor.
But let’s continue with our walk…
Residential & Working Quarters on the 2nd Floor:
By the way, the spacious garden that surrounds the museum is also one of the gems among the gardens of Tōkyō and absolutely worth seeing – regardless of the season.
And if that isn’t “nature” enough for you, you will find the National Park for Nature Studies (国立科学博物館附属自然教育園 / こくりつかがくはくぶつかんふぞくしぜんきょういくえん) just next door of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.
The Bathroom on the 2nd Floor:
How to get there:
Take the Tōkyō Metro Namboku line (東京メトロ南北線 / とうきょうメトロなんぼくせん) or the Toei Subway Mita line (都営三田線 / とえいみたせん) to Shirokanedai (白金台 / しろかねだい), exit no. 1 – about 6 minutes walk along the Meguro Dōri (目黒通り / めぐろどおり) in western direction,
Take the JR Yamanote line (JR山手線 / JRやまのてせん) to Meguro (目黒 / めぐろ) and from there via the east exit (東口 / ひがしぐち) about 7 minutes on foot along the Meguro Dōri (目黒通り / めぐろどおり) in eastern direction.
Address of the Museum:
Residential Quarters on the 2nd Floor:
Daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (last entry: 5:30 p.m)
Closed on the second and forth Wednesday of each month (in case this day is a holiday, the museum stays closed on the following Thursday instead).
Closed during preparation periods for new exhibition.
Please observe: On Januar 5, 2017 a special announcement was made (in Japanese):
“We will be closed from April 10, 2017 (Monday) until mid November 2017.
At the Tōkyō Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, we will install an elevator in the main building as part of the barrier-free function enhancement. Along with this construction, we will be closed entirely, including the main building, new building, and garden.
We apologize for any inconvenience, but we appreciate your understanding.”
The Winter Garden on the 3rd Floor:
Differ according to the exhibition (entrance fee includes admission to the garden).
And… something special:
The museum is offering a free Wi-Fi-Service (SSID: ttm-free-wifi / Password: since1983)
If you liked the pictures of the interior of the Teien Art Musuem, be prepared for a surprise or shock: The pictures only give you a comparatively shallow impression of reality. You really have to visit the museum yourself and find out how much more impressive personal experience is!
The small sculptures you can see in some of the pictures are part of the exhibition “The emotion of belief” (信の感情) by the Japanese artist Rei Naitō (内藤礼 / ないとうれい), which will be on display from 22nd November 2014 to 25th December 2014.
Also have a look at Alice Gordenker’s blog (who provided so much insight into the Teien Bijutsukan):