Collectors for Claremont: Asian Arts at the Claremont Colleges

This section briefly introduces a few Asian art collectors and their collections which are now part of the special collections at the Claremont Colleges. These extraordinary collections are regularly studied in seminars and used by students in exhibitions about East Asia. Items on display in this section include Japanese illustrated books and woodblock color prints, and classical Chinese ink color paintings with motifs of flowers and birds, similar to the painting manuals introduced in section 2.

Insects, Birds and Flowers<br />
Artist unknown (doubtful signature of Qian Xuan, 1235-1305), 18-19th c.<br />

Insects, Birds and Flowers

Artist unknown (doubtful signature of Qian Xuan, 1235-1305), 18-19th c.

Colors on silk handscroll (87” long), conserved 2009 by Bokusendo, Kyoto

Munthe Collection xx.1.35, Scripps College

This handscroll of finely detailed fruits, flowers and insects appears to date to the 18-19th centuries when European botanical and entomological prints influenced Chinese artists. The signature of the famous bird and flower artist Qian Xuan was probably added in the 19th century.

Lieutenant General Johan Munthe (1864-1935) was a Norwegian who went to China in 1886 and eventually became an advisor to the Ministry of War. In that capacity, he traveled widely and accumulated a large collection of paintings, ceramics and sculptures. This collection was offered to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art in 1928, but the purchase was not completed due to the financial effects of the Great Depression. About 150 Chinese paintings from the Munthe Collection were subsequently donated to Scripps College.

Cicada and Snow Peas<br />
By Yang Yi, 16-17th c.

Cicada and SnowPeas

By Yang Yi, 16-17thc.

Colors on silk

Pettus Collection 2026, Scripps College

Depictions of birds, flowers, and insects were particularly popular in China, painted by both professional and amateur artists. This example, probably from an album, has the artist seal of Yang Yi, about whom nothing is known but whose brushwork is typical of late Ming and early Qing professional painters. Cicadas and snow peas are often associated with fertility, long life, and good fortune. Other paintings from this album at Scripps College have similar combinations of flowers and insects.

William Bacon Pettus (1880-1959) was an American educator and President of the California College of Chinese Studies in Peking in the 1920-30s. He helped to bring the Munthe Collection of Chinese arts to Scripps College and build the Oriental Library Collection in Honnold Library. He also contributed over 100 Ming and Qing Dynasty paintings to the Scripps College Art Department.

Eternal Grasses: A Book of Illustrations, Ehon Tokiwagusa

Designed by Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), published by Murata Shotaro of Osaka
Woodblock printed books, 3 volumes, ink on paper, dated 1731
Gift of the Johnson Family Trust, 2003.6.1, Scripps College

The artist Sukenobu has depicted various women of different social classes: imperial court ladies and historical figures in volume 1, women of contemporary Kyoto in volume 2, and courtesans of licensed quarters in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo in volume 3. His illustrations were celebrated for their elegant outlines and elaborately patterned garments, and he was greatly influential on later generations of artists of ukiyo-e, i.e., woodblock prints and paintings of daily life. Ukiyo-e literally means “floating world.”   

 Mrs. Emeline Chapman Johnson (1879-1947) began collecting Japanese prints in the 1890s and in 1946 contributed about 200 works to Scripps College. She wrote, “Many is the new dress that I have done without, on the argument that it would soon be worn out anyway, while a print would be a joy forever.” In 2003 her collection of over 100 Japanese illustrated books was donated, of which this is the earliest print.

Chinese Woman and Attendant

Chinese Woman and Attendant

From the series A Mirror of Stone Rubbings by Ancient and Modern Masters of the Brush

Designed by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Woodblock printed colors on paper, 1832-33

Gift of the Johnson Family Trust 2000.1.84

Hiroshige depicted an imaginary lady and her attendant dressed in elegant Chinese court costumes. In the background is a poem written in archaic script, rendered like a rubbing from an ancient stele. The print is an excellent example of Hiroshige’s “blue print” aizuri-e, using colors recently imported into Japan from Europe and China.

Initially owned by Emeline Johnson, who collected over 300 Hiroshige prints in her lifetime, this work was given to Scripps College by her daughter-in-law Mary Wig Johnson, who was a longtime Trustee of the College.

The Priest Raigo of Miidera

The Priest Raigo of Miidera

From the series Yoshitoshi’s New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts

Designed by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)

Woodblock printed colors on paper, 1891

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Marer 93.3.33, Scripps College

This woodblock print depicts a Buddhist priest embodied in a rat destroying books and scrolls. The story goes that Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129, reigned 1072-1087), who was without a male heir, sought the advice and prayers of the Buddhist priest Raigo. When a prince was born, Raigo asked to have an ordination platform built at Mii Temple, but the Emperor refused. Outraged, Raigo starved himself to death, and shortly afterward the prince died. Raigo’s angry spirit returned to Mii Temple as a giant rat, and he began destroying the many books and scrolls Shirakawa had lavished on the temple.

Fred Marer not only accumulated an enormous collection of American and Asian ceramics which he donated to Scripps College, but also collected a choice group of Japanese prints. He was particularly fond of works by Yoshitoshi, who was a prominent Tokyo artist in the late 19th century.