Art Museum Finds its Own Buried Treasures

Art Museum Finds its Own Buried Treasures

Ogawa Haritsu (1663–1747) 小川破笠 Animal Story Scroll

Edo period (1615–1868)

Handscroll, ink, color, and gold on paper Gift of the Robert F. Blum Estate 1906.4 

When the Cincinnati Art Museum unveils its “Masterpieces of Japanese Art” exhibition in February, the art itself will be as interesting as the story of how it arrived.

The exhibition draws from a bevy of art that has resided at the museum since the late 19th century when interest in Japanese art was piqued in Cincinnati and a cultural connection flourished between the two. For more than a century the Japanese treasures lay hidden in storage at the museum while more popular Chinese artifacts took center stage at exhibitions throughout the country.

“As I started to organize the Asian art collection at the museum, I realized many of the pieces were not categorized or researched,” says Hou-mei Sung, who has been curator of Asian art at the museum since 2002. “I soon realized the superior quality of the pieces.”

In 2010 Dr. Sung got a grant from the Japan Foundation for conducting research on the collection in preparation for its catalogue and special exhibition, which allowed her to go to Japan to do in-depth research about the overlooked artifacts. The “Masterpieces of Japanese Art” is the result of her years of tireless work. The exhibition features more than 100 Japanese masterworks sourced from the 3,000 objects accumulated at the Cincinnati Art Museum over the past century. The show is designed to provide viewers not only with a better under- standing of Japanese art and its aesthetics, but also a unique regional perspective through the history of the collection.

“Having formed in the late 19th century, the collection gives us a view of how interest in Japanese culture influenced Cincinnati,” says Dr. Sung. “The leading citizens of the city traveled there and brought these pieces back. It’s incredibly interesting, and studying it helped me learn a lot about a little-known chapter of local history from a new perspective.” 

The Cincinnati Art Museum is located at 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202. You can reach them at 513.639.2995 or visit their website at

Model of an Ox Cart Meiji period (1868–1912), 19th century Lacquer

Gift of Mrs. Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto 1911.1371 

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