A statue of a former Taipei Hospital head and former dean of the Taipei Medical University is on its way back to Taiwan, exciting a bidding war among museums wanting to own a piece of art that holds special significance to the nation.
Cast by Taiwanese artist Huang Tu-shui (黃土水), the Tomoe Takagi statue is being sold back to Taiwan by the widow of Takagi’s grandson.
After Ichitaro Sakatera’s death in March at the age of 93, his widow has been contemplating a move to a smaller house, literary academic and historian Lin Ping-yen (林炳炎) said.
Lin added that Sakatera wished to sell the work to Taiwanese collectors so that it would be given the care it deserved.
Lin said that Takagi, a graduate from the former Imperial University in Tokyo, had exceptional training in the field of public sanitation and had served in Taiwan under Shinpei Goto at the Taipei Hospital and also as the second-term dean of the Taipei Medical University, which would become National Taiwan University.
Takagi had also been in charge of disease prevention across all of Taiwan, Lin said, adding that since retiring in 1919, he had been the first to head Taiwan Power Co, which the Japanese had been subsidizing with 40 percent funding.
The company had been commissioned to build the hydroelectric facility by Sun Moon Lake, but Takagi had been unable to finish the task within his 10-year term as head of the company.
He had instead managed to monopolize electricity across the nation by negotiating mergers with other civilian companies, most notably the former Taiwan Electricity Company.
Then-head of the Taiwan Electricity Co Hayanosuke Nagata had commissioned Huang to cast the statue in 1929 as a memento for Takagi when he left Taiwan. Huang passed away only a year later at the age of 35 in Tokyo.
Lin said that while the NTU has a Tagaki statue made by Japanese artist Shikai Kitamura, this had only been possible due to private investment from school alumni in 1917.
The statue had been nearly vetoed because Tagaki did not want it made, but students had persuaded him by saying that if he refused, the statue of Hidetaka Yamaguchi, the founder of the medical school would not be completed, Lin said.
Lin said that Huang’s statue was better than Kitamura’s, adding that he had been shocked at first sight.
“It was as if Tagaki had appeared before me alive,” he said, adding that the statue was one of the few larger pieces that Huang had made that was still preserved.
Whether from an artistic perspective or an historical angle, the statue is extremely valuable, Lin said.
Sources said that both the Chi Mei Museum and the Taipei Museum of Fine Arts have made enquiries about the statue.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said that NTU alumni should pool funds to purchase the valuable relic and return it to the university.
She added that the nation should also make the statue a national relic.