Installation view of the Leverhulme estate exhibition in Tokyo.

TOKYO - Tokyo has its eyes set to the present and to the future, and on the surface there are few signs of a reverence for the past in this immaculate forward-thinking city with its efficient underground system, capsule hotels and vending machines. It is a strange feeling to walk down street after street of buildings all of which are younger than me. However, I do not mean to suggest that the Japanese do not love and treasure their past; quite the opposite is true, as a visit to one of their many museums and art galleries will prove. I encountered this perfect balance of old and new this past Sunday as I wandered through the National Gallery of Western Art in a space designed by le Corbusier, looking for one of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite paintings – Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Loving Cup

Anyone who knows me knows that Rossetti’s pictures have been on my mind for the majority of the year, and I am now lucky enough to be involved in the first leg of the international tour of paintings from the Leverhulme estate, which includes A Christmas Carol by the leading light of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement. I was interested to see the Rosetti hanging in the Tokyo gallery, while ‘my own’ Rossetti sat safely in a high security storage warehouse waiting to be hung in Sotheby’s Tokyo office. This is the launch of a tour that will include venues in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York and Moscow before returning to London for the sale on 4 December.

Installation view of the Leverhulme estate exhibition in Tokyo.

Sadly The Loving Cup was not on view, so I settled for a postcard, and luckily I didn’t have to wait long to be in Rosetti’s company again. Yesterday, the Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces were unpacked and hung in our gallery, complete with new high-tech spotlights. The presentation is stunning, as I have learnt to expect in Japan. The Visit to the Yacht by James Tissot hangs in the centre, a symphony in subtle greys and enigmatic tensions – flanked on either side by the twin beauties of William Holman Hunt’s celebration of rustic innocence A Tuscan Girl Plaiting Straw and the more heady sensuality of Rossetti’s musical courtesan in A Christmas Carol.

They look magnificent hanging publicly for the first time outside Britain. But, I wondered, what would the reaction of Japanese collectors be? Judging from the viewing and the Champagne reception yesterday, it seems that they love them. But I shouldn’t be surprised at the warm reception. Ever since the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, when the Japanese section caused a sensation, resulting in a craze for all things Japanese, the two-way dialogue of influence and inspiration between east and west has continued. And among those Western artists who filled their studios and their canvases with Japanese works of art and prints, was of course, James Tissot.

Tags:Tokyo, 19th Century European Paintings, Exhibitions