Finest Collection of Japanese Art in US Given to Four Museums

William Burto and Sylvan Barnet, depicted by Sugimoto Hiroshi in 2003.
Photo: courtesy of The Boston Globe

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is among four institutions set to receive the second half of an important collection of Japanese art, reports the Boston Globe.

The collection is that of Sylvan Barnet, a 1951 graduate of Harvard University, who, alongside his partner, William Burto, spent over 50 years gathering works of Japanese calligraphy and religious art. It is said to be one of the finest collections of its kind out side of Japan.

Last year, Barnet, aged 88, was diagnosed with brain cancer and given under a year to live. In 2013, when Burto passed away, he left his portion of the collection to the group of museums and now Barnet is doing the same. When discussing their decision to donate the works, Barnet said they wanted “to help people have the experience we had.”

A hanging scroll dating from the 13th century is one of the gifts destined for the MFA.Photo: courtesy Boston Globe

A hanging scroll dating from the 13th century is one of the gifts destined for the MFA.
Photo: Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The honored museums include two in Boston: the MFA and Harvard Art Museums. The Metropolitan Museum in New York City and the Freer Gallery in Washington will also receive a portion of the collection. Each institution will receive a varying number of works, which are roughly equal in quality and value.

The MFA will receive 179 pieces, which span from the Neolithic period to the 21st century and include works in ceramic and lacquer, as well as prints and photographs.

Speaking about the two collectors, Anne Nishimura Morse, the MFA’s curator of Japanese art, described them as “individuals who have had unfailing senses of the beautiful and insatiable curiosities.”

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