In February 1927, Sir Robert Witt received a letter from Professor Yukio Yashiro expressing his ‘great joy in the cause of art’ and wished Sir Robert to be the first man in Europe to hear of it. Professor Yashiro had persuaded ‘big people’ in Tokyo to donate £30,000 to begin work on what he described as a ’Witt Library in Japan’ to house a collection of photographs of oriental art, together with those of ‘the occidental’, necessary for comparative study. Professor Yashiro had become Director of the new establishment, Bejutsu Kenkiujo, that was part of the Imperial Academy of Art in Tokyo.

Yashiro is recorded as visiting the Witt Library three years earlier; his signature appears in Sir Robert Witt’s visitors’ book for January 1924 and again for August and October of that year. Yashiro, who studied under Bernard Berenson, at I Tatti, visited London in 1924 to complete his research on Botticelli, in readiness for the publication of his three-volume work on the artist, published by Medici in 1925.

In his letter of 1927, the professor talks of the process of establishing his own photographic library as being ‘slow and steady’. He hopes Sir Robert will consider Bejutsu Kenkiujo as ‘an offspring from your wonderful idea of the Witt Library’, and he arranged return visits to the Witt Library in April 1927 and March 1928 to seek advice on developing his Tokyo library.

It is happy coincidence that the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, (NRICP) Tokyo, of which Professor Yashiro’s library, Betjutsu Kenkiujo, is now a part, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. The Courtauld has a longstanding relationship with NRICP through our Department of Wall Paintings and this relationship was extended, in March this year, by a visit to the Witt Library from Emiko Yamanashi, Head of Archives and researchers, Tomoko Emura and Nakamura Setsuko.

A brief mention of Professor Yashiro’s photographic library, in an article written by Sir Robert in 1930, encouraged me to find out whether Betjutsu Kenkiujo still existed. We share a history and have much in common today with our Tokyo colleagues and our long-acknowledged ‘offspring’, The Frick Art Reference Library, New York. It too is re-united with a long-lost ‘sibling’.

Barbara Thompson, Witt and Conway Librarian