By Robert Amos
Bunzo Nakanishi died of a stroke in his home in Kyoto on November 22, 2004. He was 82 years old. Nakanishi is fondly remembered by many artists here. Through his annual visits to the city, even up to the year of his death, Nakanishi formed many firm friendships in Victoria.
Nakanishi was a connoisseur of the art of Japan, and a most discrete and honourable dealer in antiquities. His expertise guided Mrs. Isabel Pollard in her donations to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria during the 1960’s and 1970’s, aquisitions which established our gallery’s collection of Japanese art as the foremost - and most dynamic - in this country.
Mrs. Pollard was an American, living in San Francisco when she decided to form a collection of Japanese art in Victoria, in memory of her husband, Fred Pollard. The founding director of the Victoria Gallery, Colin Graham, told me “I was very hesitant to buy any Japanese paintings on my own,” and so he put her in touch with Nakanishi.
Arrangements conducted by Nakanishi soon resulted in the purchase of the A-Ji-Kan Mandara, a fifteenth century religious painting which is probably the most important Japanese work of art in Canada. Subsequently, with Nakanishi’s guidance, Mrs. Pollard bought extensively, bringing to Victoria such choice items as Yamamoto Baiitsu’s Hawk in Snow.
Well ahead of the market trends, Nakanishi and Mrs. Pollard assembled signicant collections of Japanese folk art (particularly ceramics and textiles) and the Chinese-inspired ink paintings called Nanga for the Victoria Art Gallery. Nakanishi’s own interests were broader, including Chinese bronzes and Indian statuary.
Bunzo Nakanishi lived his whole life in a delightful traditional Japanese home located in the heart of Kyoto’s temple district. The home was designed by his architect father, who filled the enclosed garden with Chinese stone statuary. The family owned textile factories, and Nakanishi senior worked for the Japanese antique dealers, Yamanaka and Company.
After wartime service, which left him with a game leg, the young Bunzo Nakanishi studied art history under the noted professor Toru Mori. He expected to dedicate his life to scholarship but was encouraged by his father to go into business. Throughout his life he travelled, spring and fall, to meet with dealers, auction houses and curators. New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and museums in Cleveland, Seattle and San Francisco were on his itinerary.
Pat Martin Bates, who travelled with him on assignment to Christie’s, Sotheby’s and the finest antique shops in London, told me “he was the king. They always feted him, put on big dinners when he was in town. But he always saved Victoria for last - it was like his dessert!”
Barry Till, curator of Asian art at the Victoria gallery recalled, “when there were blossoms here, I always expected Bunzo.” Nakanishi continued to make annual visits to Victoria after Pollard’s death in 1982. By choice, he befriended artists rather than collectors here, and became an unofficial member of the Limners group. Robin Skelton, Nita Forrest, Herbert Siebner, Dick Morriss and Colin Graham were visited. Victoria Colonist writer William Thomas, entrepreneur Bob Wright, ikebana expert Theo Wiggan and Michiko Warkentyne were among his special friends.
As well as advice, Nakanishi brought exhibitions of his own collections to Victoria. One featured kesa, antique patchwork monks’ robes assembled from the finest Japanese brocades. Another was his personal collection of paintings of beautiful women by the great masters of the Ukiyo-e period (1614-1869). His donations to our collection were numerous.
An essentially private person, Nakanishi liked to keep his friends separate, “in little pockets” as Pat Bates said. Yet a number of Victorians, among them my wife and myself were made welcome in his Kyoto home by Nakanishi and his gracious wife Chieko - usually for weeks at a time. A special favourite of Chieko - though they spoke no language in common - was Bill West, who lived there while making an extensive study of bunraku, the puppet theatre.
Pat Martin Bates shared with me stories of this charming and noble man. Together one winter they travelled the Kisoji Road, Japan’s ancient “northern” route from Tokyo to Kyoto. She recalled one particular evening after dinner in a Japanese country inn. It was snowing, and Bunzo was enjoying himself in a traditional Japanese bath, out-of-doors and all by himself. “He was out there, humming in his reedy little voice. A glimpse of the moon, a moment in time... every single star was special to him.”
As he had often said to her, whether after a convivial dinner or a single memorable moment: “such beautiful time - never come again.”
Copyright © 2005 Robert Amos
Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can
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