The National Museum of Western Art (NMWA) is a museum in Ueno Park with an outstanding permanent collection of artworks dating from the 14th to the 20th centuries. The museum also hosts at least three special exhibitions a year which often feature major works on loan from both private collections and public museums from around the world.
The NMWA first opened in 1959 to house the art collection of the industrialist Kojiro Matsutaka (1865-1950) which included many French impressionist works, and several sculptures by Auguste Rodin. Since then the museum’s expressed purpose has been to provide the public with opportunities to enjoy and appreciate art in the Western tradition.
The NMWA’s original Main Building was designed by the Swiss-French modernist architect Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965) as a symbol of friendship between France and Japan. The building is now a nationally registered Important Cultural Property, and is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with 16 other architectural works by Le Corbusier. Since the museum first opened, both the permanent collection and the building have grown, with new wings added in 1979 and 1997. The permanent collection now amounts to around 5,500 works.
The 1st floor exhibits art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the 20th century artworks are pieces by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and Georges Braque. There is more 19th century art on the 2nd floor and this includes paintings by Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Cezanne, Van Gogh and one whole room dedicated to the works of Monet.
Also on the 2nd floor are works representative of the late Gothic and Rennaisance periods of the 14th to 16th centuries, 17th century Baroque art, and 18th century Rococo.
In addition to the paintings, on the 1st floor there is a room of modern sculptures, but some of the best sculptures are actually located outside in the garden that fronts the museum. These include several famous works by Auguste Rodin such as the Burghers of Calais, the Thinker, and the Gates of Hell.
Look out also for Bourdelle’s sculpture of Hercules which guards the front entrance.
Tickets are bought at a counter outside the main entrance. Inside the entrance is an information desk where you can pick up a brochure guide to the museum. Rental audio guides in English, Chinese, Korean are available for 300 yen. Nearby the information desk there are lockers for visitors’ belongings.
There is also a museum shop just inside the entrance which sells a variety of art reproductions, postcards, exhibition catalogues, and other art books. Beside the shop is a café where you can get pasta dishes, pizzas, hamburger steak, seafood, chicken and pork dishes, and Japanese style set meals, along with a variety of cakes and desserts, tea, coffee, and other refreshments.
The National Museum of Western Art is located inside Ueno Park and is close to the main park entrance. It is a 3 minute walk from the Park Exit of JR Ueno Station, a 7 minute walk from Keisei Ueno Station, and a 6 minute walk from Ueno Subway Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza and Hibiya lines. Here is a map showing the location.
Weekdays & Sundays: 9.30 – 17.30 (Last entry at 17.00)
Fridays & Saturdays: 9.30 – 20.00 (Last entry at 19.30, closing time for special exhibitions may differ)
Closed: Mondays & December 28 – January 1st (Open if Monday is a national holiday the museum but closed the following Tuesday instead)
Admission: 500 yen for adults, 250 for college students
FREE for children 18 and younger, FREE for seniors 65 years and over, FREE for people with disabilities and their attendants
Admission to the Permanent Collection is FREE on the second & fourth Saturday of each month, on International Museum Day (May 18th), and Culture Day (November 3rd)
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.