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.
Purchased first modern Japanese print, "Kiyosu Bridge", from the Shima Art Company in New York City.
Earned Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Harvard University.
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.
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.
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.
Moved to farmhouse in Newtown, Connecticut and re-established Robert Lee Gallery there one year later.
Purchased and ran Merwin's Art Shop in New Haven, Connecticut
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.
Bequeathed his collection of Japanese prints, cataloging records, papers, and library to the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery of Art.