Introducing the Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books at the University of Pennsylvania: Lecture Review

Earlier this week, the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) hosted a discussion between Professor Julie Nelson Davis and Arthur Tress about the collection of over 1,300 Japanese illustrated books that Tress donated to the University of Pennsylvania. It was a fascinating lecture, with beautiful visuals, that provided an insight not only into the astonishing variety of the Tress collection but also into his career as a photographer, the process of collecting as a private individual and how which books are deemed of value has developed over time.

The lecture began with an introduction to Tress, the inspiration behind his photographs and his career as a photographer, followed by how he got in contact with Professor Davis. They then discussed how Tress first discovered illustrated Japanese books whilst studying in Japan in the mid-1960s with the discovery of copies of Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, which later inspired Tress to spend five years taking thousands of photographs of Morro Rock, in California. Professor Davis and Tress then examined specific examples from the collection, that highlighted the astounding variety of the collection, which includes illustrated haikus, ukiyo-e prints, shunga, illustrated classics, novels, kimono design books, manuscripts, books about how to write letters and more. The lecture concluded by returning full circle and juxtaposing Japanese illustrations from the collection with photographs taken by Tress. Particularly interesting was how Tress collected books that, at the time, were overlooked by collectors – creating a unique collection as well as providing commentary on which books were considered valuable and how this has changed with time.

It was really enjoyable to listen to Tress’s and Professor Davis’ excitement and enthusiasm about the extraordinarily extensive and eclectic collection of illustrated Japanese books which spans from the seventeenth century to the 1930s.

Link to the SISJAC event (18/03/2021):

The Arthur Tress Collection of Illustrated Books website:

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