The Society for Japanese Arts was founded in 1937 by a group of Dutch collectors of and dealers in Japanese art in order to “bring together people interested in or having an interest in the different genres of Japanese art to further the appreciation and encourage the study of the same.” This, in fact, is still the Society’s aim.
The Society currently has about 700 members in 24 countries, including prominent museums and institutions. Individual members include collectors of Japanese art, art dealers, individuals with a general interest in Japanese art, and academics specialising in various aspects of Japanese art. Our periodical Andon has developed into a scholarly journal with an international reputation.
Berend Modderman (left) and Chris Krieger
Chris C. Krieger, a Japan scholar and curator of Asia at the Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, was the Society’s first chairman. Berend Modderman, a bookseller and collector of Japanese prints, became the editor-in-chief of the Society’s Bulletin. In these pre-internet years it was not always easy to find sound, reliable information, and the publication of a periodical was high on the founders’ list of intentions. The first issue of the Bulletin (in Dutch) appeared in October 1938 and was received with general enthusiasm by the Society’s 38(!) members. The organisation of study meetings and (small) exhibitions also formed part of the Society’s activities right from the start.
By the beginning of the Second World War there were 48 members, and during the early 1940s the Society continued to grow, albeit modestly. By 1943, however, the activities of the Society had come to a grinding halt. Paper was scarce, there were hardly any new books and no auctions or exhibitions, the popular study meetings were abolished because travelling was dangerous, members disappeared...
After the war, attempts were made to restore lost contacts and revive the Society. The Bulletin re-emerged in 1948, but it proved difficult to keep the momentum. It appeared at ever greater intervals and was, in the early 1960s, gradually replaced by a newsletter. As the number of non-Dutch members was steadily increasing, it was decided in 1963 to publish the newsletter in both Dutch and English. In 1972 the Society officially changed its name from Vereeniging voor Japansche Grafiek en Kleinkunst (Society for Japanese Graphic and Minor Arts) to Society for Japanese Arts and Crafts – the ‘Crafts’ were gone by the Society’s 50th anniversary in 1987. The first issue of the English-language journal Andon appeared in 1981. The quarterly newsletter continued to be sent to members by post, until it was replaced by the now familiar email version. The Society is proud of its Heinz Kaempfer Fund, created in 1989 to provide financial support for young scholars.
Rats by Renjō (dates unknown), illustration from the catalogue to A Brush with Animals (2007)
Items from SJA members’ collections have graced major and minor exhibitions all over the world. In addition, the Society has, over the years, taken the initiative for several successful exhibitions, often with accompanying catalogues:
2009 Japan Tattoo, Tattoos in Japanese Prints - Siebold House, Leiden
2007 A Brush with Animals, Japanese Paintings 1700-1950 - Kunsthal, Rotterdam
1998 Kuniyoshi, Heroes & Ghosts - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
1992 Yoshitoshi, Beauty and Violence - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
1987 Meiji, Japanese Art in Transition - Municipal Museum, The Hague
1982 Hokusai and his school - Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
The cover of Beauty & Violence, which accompanied the 1992 exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum
The exhibition Verzameld en gekoesterd, Japanse kunst uit Nederlands particulier bezit (Collected and Cherished, Japanese Art from private collections in the Netherlands), held at the Westfries Museum in Hoorn in 2000, was a celebration of the enthusiasm and dedication of the SJA’s Dutch members.
In addition, the Society organised the following conferences:
2013 Taishō – Years of Irony and Paradox (on the occasion of the Society's 75th anniversary)
2011 Yoshitoshi, his Life and Works
The Heinz Kaempfer Fund was the organiser of the Kunisada symposium held on 3 March 2017 to celebrate the Society’s 80th anniversary.
The SJA board consists of: