Robert O. Muller Papers

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At A Glance

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  • Overview

    Personal papers of Robert O. Muller, a Connecticut-based art dealer and collector who, over the course of seventy years, assembled one of the world's finest collections of Japanese prints from the late 1860s through the 1940s. The papers include Muller's correspondence relating to Japanese art, files relating to his and his wife's 1940 honeymoon in Japan during which he forged many contacts with Japanese artists and art dealers and purchased thousands of prints, subject files, catalogs, business transactions, magazine and newspaper clippings, photographs, and notes and drafts for a planned book.
  • Creator

    Muller, Robert O., 1911-2003
  • Dates

  • Physical Description

    7.5 Linear feet
  • Collection ID


  • Scope and Contents

    The Robert O. Muller Papers consist of Mr. Muller's correspondence; research and subject files; indexes to his art collection; printed matter; photographs; and a draft manuscript and notes for a planned book. The papers document his art collecting and dealing, his relationships with a wide variety of art shops and other art dealers, his 1940 honeymoon to Japan, and the dealings of his various businesses from the 1940s through to the 1990s.
  • Biographical / Historical

    Born in 1911 in Pelham, New York, art collector, dealer, and connoisseur Robert O. Muller assembled a collection of nearly 4,500 late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japanese prints throughout his life. As a history student at Harvard University, Mr. Muller's world renowned print collection began to take shape with the purchase of the print 'Kiyosu Bridge" by Kawase Hasui for $5.00 from the Shima Art Company in 1931.

    Mr. Muller married Ingeborg Lee in 1940 and their honeymoon in Japan played a critical role in Mr. Muller's development as an art dealer and collector. They spent five months there and met with many important artists and dealers and purchased thousands of prints for both their personal art collection and for commerce.

    Upon their return to the States, Mr. Muller purchased the Shima Art Company's assets and started the Robert Lee Gallery with his partner William Lee Comerford in 1940. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, Muller and Comerford closed the Robert Lee Gallery and later reopened it in a different Manhattan location. The Mullers moved to Newton, Connecticut, in 1946 and reestablished the Robert Lee Gallery there. In 1962, Muller purchased a frame shop, Merwin's Art Shop, in New Haven, Connecticut. Although primarily a framing shop, Muller not only befriended many scholars and academics from nearby Yale University but sold Japanese prints from the back room.

    From that initial purchase of 'Kiyosu Bridge' in 1931 up until his death in 2003, Robert Muller amassed what many art historians, collectors, and curators regarded as the finest collection of its type in the world. Muller bequeathed his Japanese print collection, archival materials, and library to the Sackler Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution.

    Much of the biographical information comes from, Printed to Perfection: Twentieth-century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection. (Washington, D.C. : Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in association with Hotei Publishing, c2004)

    Further information and clarification from conversations with Dr. James T. Ulak, Deputy Director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery .

    1911 October 5 -- Born in Pelham, New York. Great-grandson of Charles Erhart, cofounder of Charles Pfizer & Company, now Pfizer Inc.

    1931 -- Purchased first modern Japanese print, "Kiyosu Bridge", from the Shima Art Company in New York City.

    1934 -- Earned Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Harvard University.

    1936 -- Traveled to Germany aboard the Hindenberg. During return to United States, visited with and bought many prints from Japanese print collector Thomas Bates Blow in London.

    1940 February 3 -- Married Ingeborg Lee and honeymooned in Japan.

    1940 September -- Purchased the assets of the Shima Art Co. for $7,000. Remained friends with the former owners, Kazue Sumii and Hango Sumii and their daughter Noriko.

    1940 October 21 -- Opened the Robert-Lee Gallery on 69 East 57th Street in Manhattan.

    1941 December -- After attack on Pearl Harbor, closed Robert-Lee Gallery. Later reopened at new location at 32 West 57th Street

    1941 - 1952 -- Mrs. Muller gave birth to four daughters and one son.

    1942-1945 -- Worked for Pfizer Inc.

    1946 -- Moved to farmhouse in Newtown, Connecticut and re-established Robert Lee Gallery there one year later.

    1962 -- Purchased and ran Merwin's Art Shop in New Haven, Connecticut

    1985 -- Handed over management of Merwin's Art Shop to his son Robert L. Muller

    2003 April 10 -- Died as a result of Parkinson's Disease.

    2003 May -- Bequeathed his collection of Japanese prints, cataloging records, papers, and library to the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery of Art.
  • Creator

    Muller, Robert O., 1911-2003
  • Place

    Japan -- Description and Travel
  • Topic

    Prints, Japanese -- 20th century
    Prints, Japanese -- 19th century
    Art -- Collectors and collecting
  • Provenance

    Robert O. Muller bequeathed his Japanese print collection as well as his archival records to the Sackler Gallery in 2003.
  • See more items in

    Robert O. Muller Papers
  • Custodial History

    Gift of Robert Muller
  • Archival Repository

    Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
  • Type

    Collection descriptions
    Archival materials
    Auction catalogs
    Exhibition catalogs
    Photographic prints
    Price lists
  • Citation

    Robert O. Muller Papers. FSA.A2003.14. National Museum of Asian Art Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Bequest of Robert O. Muller, 2003
  • Arrangement

    This collection is arranged into five series:

    Series 1: Correspondence and subject files

    Series 2: Catalogs and indexes to Robert-Lee Gallery and Robert O. Muller's Art Collection

    Series 3: Draft Manuscript

    Series 4: Printed Matter

    Series 5: Photographs and slides
  • Processing Information

    The collection was processed by Linda Machado Raditz in 2005.
  • Rights

    Permission to reproduce and publish an item from the Archives is coordinated through the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery's Rights and Reproductions department. Please contact the Archives in order to initiate this process.
  • Genre/Form

    Auction catalogs
    Exhibition catalogs
    Photographic prints
    Price lists
  • Restrictions

    Collection is open for research.
  • Related Materials

    The Sackler Gallery of Art owns the Robert O. Muller Collection of Japanese prints.

Repository Contact

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
National Museum of Asian Art Archives
Washington, D.C. 20013