The wonderful Corfu Museum of Asian Art is world-renowned yet rarely visited. (They did have an exhibition of their best Japanese pieces in Tokyo ten years ago, and the Japanese are still talking about it.) Housed in the grand, but somewhat dilapidated Palace of St. Michael and St. George in the old town, it was created for the exceptional collection donated to the Greek nation by Gregorios Manos, once the Greek ambassador to Austria in the late nineteenth century.
Manos had an eye for art, and a large fortune. Having retired in Paris, he spent all of it at dealers and in auction houses across Europe, in Berlin, London and Vienna. He acquired almost 10,000 works of mainly Chinese and Japanese art over a period of four decades. When he made his bequest, shortly after the end of the First World War, his only desire was that the collection should remain together as a whole. His wish was fulfilled in 1927, when the “Museum of Chinese and Japanese Art” finally came into existence, housed in what had once been, in the previous century, the residence of the British Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. Manos joined the staff as a curator and died one year later, ruined but happy. The museum now numbers some 15,000 pieces — with more recent donations and purchases from Central Asia, Khmer, Tibet, Korea and Thailand — but it still retains Manos’s personality.