As you step into the finely worked mosaic floors made of natural stones, your eyes are naturally drawn to the specially commissioned glass relief doors by French glass artist, René Lalique. Elegant female figures are etched with wings and through them, warm light filters through. While these doors are no longer used, you can easily imagine how they swing open into the great hall in welcome. You can almost hear the music, a mix of classic, jazz and big band, and visualize beautiful women draped in soft crepe, satin and chiffon, and men looking as dapper as Cary Grant and Fred Astaire. It is impossible not to be swept up by the romantic atmosphere of what has been touted as Tokyo’s most beautiful art museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.
When Prince Yasuhiko who founded the Asaka branch of the imperial family (1906) went to France to study military affairs in 1922, a traffic accident prolonged his stay and his spouse Princess Nobuko joined him there until 1925. This was the Golden Age of Art Deco in France and the couple was inspired to build their new residence in the Art Deco architectural style. Completed in 1933, the mansion is itself a work of art, an example of Japan’s receptivity to other cultures in the early Showa Period, and has been designated one of Japan’s Important Cultural Properties. It is the perfect backdrop for the more than 80 French Art Deco works on exhibit for the show titled Exotic x Modern: French Art Deco and inspiration from afar, which runs from October 6, 2018 to January 14, 2019.
Art Deco is a distinctive style of visual arts and architecture that has influenced the design of a wide range of materials, from sculpture to jewelry, from paintings to furniture, from fashion to everyday appliances. In the period between the world wars, Art Deco was born out of a dual desire both for the modern and the exotic, thus the title of the show. Modern because it was a time of great technological progress and polished craftsmanship. Exotic because there was, in Europe at this time, a growing fascination for the art and culture of Africa, Middle East and Asia. French artists were able to venture to the colonies, but dance, music and art from other continents were also eagerly imported into France. Exoticism manifested itself in tropical flora and fauna motifs, in the use of novel and sometimes rare materials such as ivory, lacquer and jade, and the adoption of artistic traditions from the East. Art Deco was associated with everything luxurious and glamorous.
The French Art Deco works are thoughtfully spaced throughout the mansion. Walking through the various rooms is about taking in the sheer beauty of each piece as well as the quintessentially elegant and chic setting they are displayed in. Here are some of my favorite pieces from the show.
This Islamic Style Day Dress by Paul Poiret c.1923 drew obvious inspiration from the structure and color combination of clothing in the Middle East. Note the gorgeously textured wall that serves as a backdrop to this piece.
This gracefully smooth marble sculpture celebrates the simple beauty of form typical in Japanese craft and Egyptian relief.
Designed by Rene Prou, with original drawing for tapestry by Emond Tapissier, this armchair from 1933 features bright colors and bold motifs.
Many of these pieces on exhibit are shown in Japan for the very first time. It is a rare glimpse into a bygone era, which hopefully broadens our perspective and understanding of French art history.
The museum is open from 10:00 to 18:00. It is a 7-minute walk from Meguro Station on the JR Yamanote Line (East Exit) and the Tokyu Meguro Line (Main Gate), and a 6-minute walk from Shirokanedai Station (Exit 1) on the Toei Mita Line and Tokyo Metro. Tickets are ¥1,200 for adults, and discounted rate apply to students and seniors. Check their English website for days they are closed. The museum admission ticket gives you access to the garden, so do make sure to stroll together in this beautifully manicured space which has been kept pretty much the same over the decades.