The collection of Japanese prints held at the RMAH is a veritable jewel in Japan’s heritage. It was rescued from obscurity during the 1970s and since than has won general international fame, thanks to the exceptionally good state of the prints and the extreme rarity of some of them. Today, the collection numbers some 7 500 by 362 different well-known and less-well-known artists, and a further 300 by unknown artists. For specialists, it is an important source for research; for buffs, the object of wonder.
Two dates – 1889 and 1905 – and two personalities – the noted dealer and promotor of Art Neaveau work, Siegfried Bing (1838-1905), and the Belgian devotee, Edmonde Michotte (1831-1914) – proved to be crucial in the assembling of this collection. It was in 1889 that the first major acquisition occurred, when, on the advice of Michotte, the Belgian government purchased a lot of 266 prints from Bing, and in 1905 that, with the acquisition of the Michotte Collection, the RMAH found itself at a stroke 4 600 prints richer.
The print collection is very important for both its quality and quantity, as well as for the great number or artists that are represented in it. Unfortunately, it was for long poorly accessible to the public, the fragility particular to prints meaning that it was rarely exhibited. Now that it is housed in the newly opened Museum of Japanese Art, the prints are on permanent exhibition, though only on a rotating basis.