Paintings from the Estate of Robert O. Muller
Robert O. Muller (1911-2003), whose great-grandfather Charles Erhart was a co-founder of Pfizer, began collecting modern Japanese prints in 1931 as a student at Harvard. He returned from his five-month honeymoon at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in 1940 with tens of thousands of prints and invaluable contacts with art dealers and print publishers. That same year he purchased the entire inventory of the Shima Art Company in New York and opened the Robert Lee Gallery on West Fifty-seventh Street. Although he closed the gallery at the outbreak of World War II, he was well launched on a successful career as a savvy print dealer and noted connoisseur. In 1946 Muller settled his family on a farm in Newtown in southwestern Connecticut. He bought Merwin's Art Shop, a picture-framing shop in New Haven adjacent to the Yale University campus. In 1985 he retired and handed over the shop to his son.
Muller's personal print collection is well known to scholars and collectors through numerous important exhibitions and publications. At the time of his death two years ago, the art world was surprised and delighted to learn that he had bequeathed his 4400 late nineteenth and twentieth-century Japanese woodblock prints, drawings, and keyblock prints, as well as his archives, to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. A selection was shown in the exhibition "Printed to Perfection" in late 2004--early 2005. Joan Mirviss, friend and longtime advisor to Muller, contributed an obituary of him to Impressions 25 (2003), the journal of the Ukiyo-e Society of America.
Beginning in the 1980s, during travels to Kyoto, Muller also focused on fine paintings by artists already represented in his collection in the print medium (Yoshida Hiroshi, lots 275-76, and Ogata Gekko, lot 273 for example). His interest in Japanese paintings soon became a consuming passion, carrying him in many new directions. He displayed paintings for friends in the viewing room in his barn, a carpeted oasis with humidity control and air conditioning.