A treasure house of art from China, Korea and Japan
The Museum for East Asian Art was opened in 1913 as the first specialist museum of its kind in Europe. Together with the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Museum of Asian Art) in Berlin it now houses the most important collection of art from China, Korea and Japan in Germany.
With their collection, the museum’s founders hoped to convey a comprehensive picture of every genre and period of East Asian art. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was anything but easy to imagine how Chinese art, for example, had developed. China was in a semi-colonial state; there were no public museums. Only in Japan were there already national museums set up on the Western model, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara, where not only Japanese art but also treasures from China were collected and exhibited. Fischer’s diaries make it clear that he often visited the museums and fostered close contacts with their directors and curators. Before deciding on major purchases, he would study comparable items in museums and seek expert advice. The Fischers also acquired all the specialist literature they could lay their hands on – which was not in fact very much, as East Asian art history as a scholarly discipline was still in its infancy. In fact it was only helped off the ground by collecting pioneers like the Fischers in the first place.
The Fischers’ purchasing trips to Japan were fairly comfortable, in contrast to China, which still had neither a nationwide rail network nor a single currency. On their travels, the Fischers would start from the German naval base at Qingdao (traditionally: Tsingtao) and follow the route of the geologist and geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833–1905). They covered long stretches in mule-drawn carts. Pictures of their caravans in the loess mountains of Shaanxi, along with diary entries describing weeks of monsoon rains, basic accommodation and hostile militias give some idea of how strenuous and dangerous travelling in China was. The Fischers acquired numerous art treasures in Beijing at the Liulichang antiques market, mostly from Chinese but also from European traders, but also from pedlars trading from no fixed location who carried their wares around with them. It is noteworthy that they rarely succeeded in buying high-quality painting or calligraphy in China; the items on sale were mostly of stone, bronze, pottery, porcelain or jade.
From 1904 to 1907, Adolf Fischer held the post of academic attaché at the German Imperial Legation in Beijing.. His task was to assist museums of ethnography in Germany in their acquisition of ‘religious or scholarly’ items as well as ‘outstanding copies of ancient classical works’ from China and Japan. He was expressly permitted to continue his own private collecting of East Asian art. Once the foundation of the Museum of East Asian Art was sealed by the signing of a contract with the city of Cologne in 1909, the Fischers concentrated on collecting once more. Thanks to the funds made available by the Circle of Friends, formed in 1909 by Arnold von Guilleaume, they succeeded in the course of a number of purchasing trips between 1909 and 1912 in acquiring numerous artworks which have since become internationally famous.
Later, the museum’s collecting activity was based largely on the European art and auction trade, and on donations by private collectors. During and between the two world wars, these sources dried up almost entirely. After the end of World War II, the main task of the director, Werner Speiser (1908–65), consisted in viewing hundreds of crates containing the evacuated holdings of the museum, and drawing up lists of war losses and items stolen in 1947. The number of items lost amounted to about 760 in total. During his term of office, Speiser managed above all to close gaps in the fields of painting and Japanese woodblock prints. Under Roger Goepper (1925–2011), the museum’s director from 1966 to 1990, the museum acquired a donation of Japanese painting from the estate of Kurt Brasch (1907–74), of Chinese sacred bronzes from Hans Jürgen von Lochow (1902–89) and the collection of Hans Wilhelm Siegel (1903–97). In 1974 Siegel sold his collection of early Chinese pottery and sacred bronzes to the city of Cologne. He diverted half of the proceeds to a ‘Orientstiftung zur Förderung der ostasiatischen Kunst’ (‘foundation for the promotion of East Asian art’), which has since made possible a number of important purchases.
Adele Schlombs (director 1991 -2022) succeeded in acquiring the collection of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy assembled by the Heidelberg academic publisher Heinz Götze (1912–2001). The permanent loans from the Peter und Irene Ludwig Stiftung have enriched the museum’s collection since 1995, adding new focuses in the fields of Chinese sacred bronzes, pottery and Buddhist wood sculpture. With the support of the above-mentioned Orientstiftung and the Circle of Friends, re-formed in 1989, numerous East Asian hanging scrolls have been acquired and others restored. The city of Cologne, the Stadtsparkasse Köln, the Kunststiftung NRW, the Landschaftsverband Rheinland (LVR) and the Kulturstiftung der Länder have also frequent made financial contributions to this end.
Tuesday to Sunday
11am – 5pm
Every first Thursday in the month
11am – 10pm
Closed Mondays; open on All Saints' Day
Museum is closed on December 24th, Christmas Day (25 Dec), New Year's Eve (31 Dec) and New Year's Day (1 Jan). Museum is opend on Easter Monday, Whit Monday, German Unity Day and December 26.
€ 9.50 / reduced € 5,50
KölnTag on the first Thursday of the month (except public holidays): free admission to the Museum for all Cologne residents.
How to get here
Public transport: Tram routes 1 and 7 and bus route 142, alight at ‘Universitätsstrasse’
There is a car park at the museum
The museum is barrier-free. Disabled toilet available.