Published: March 2, 2004
A major survey of Japanese paintings by master artists from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century opens at Japan Society Gallery – its exclusive East Coast venue – on March 9.
“An Enduring Vision: Seventeenth to Twentieth Century Japanese Painting from the Gitter-Yelen Collection” features nearly 100 works from one of the top collections of Japanese painting in the United States and will remain on view through June 20.
“An Enduring Vision” provides a comprehensive over view of Japanese paintings from six major artistic schools and styles spanning Japan’s Edo (1615-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. Featuring an extraordinary collection of hanging scrolls, folding screens and albums, the exhibition presents the achievements of highly innovative and boldly eccentric painters who revolutionized the traditions of Japanese painting in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and established the foundation for such early modern practices as naturalism, realism and individual expressionism.
Whereas works of the official painting academies that served the court and military elite are well known abroad, this exhibition focuses on works by non-official artists – independent artists who painted for the growing art market of the urban population, or simply for their own enjoyment. These experimental artists created new forms of expression that both challenged and contributed to the rich traditions of East Asian painting.
“This exhibition is the first major survey of Japanese painting in more than two decades in New York City, and confirms the brilliant achievements and vitality of individual artists in pre-modern Japan,” said Alexandra Munroe, society vice president of arts and culture and Japan Society gallery director. “This exhibition is especially timely now that Japan Society is approaching its 100th anniversary, perfectly complementing our ongoing mission to illuminate Japan’s rich artistic, historical and cultural legacy for American audiences.”
Organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art, “An Enduring Vision” features both representational and abstract works, including depictions of flora and fauna, meditative mountain landscapes, animated scenes from city life, elegant and colorful portraits and bold calligraphy.
The exhibition is organized into six sections based on style or school. Focuses around the work of master artists and key innovators, each section presents a chronological view of a style or school’s evolution, from its early Edo period origins to its expression in the works of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century painters.
Nanaga, or painting of the literati, evolved from a renewed interest in Chinese culture during the Edo period, particularly the ideal of the scholar-poet who immerses himself in nature and paints freely for his own enjoyment and self-cultivation. Included in this section are works by the two greatest early Nanga masters, the prolific and innovative Ike Taiga (1723-1776) and the poet/painter Yosa Buson (1716-1783). Works by Uragami Gyokudo (1745-1820), Tani Buncho (1763-1840), Taki Katei (1830-1901) and others show the continuation and development of the Nanga form in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
The realist painting Maruyama-Shijo School is derived from the work of Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795), who pioneered a naturalistic style within the parameters of Japanese tradition. Followers such as Matsumura Goshun (1752-1811), who studied under Buson of the Nanga school; Komai Genki (1747-1797); Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891); Hasegawa Gyokuho (1822-1879); and Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942) created their own forms of lyrical realism, sometimes incorporating elements of Western art into their carefully observed sketches from nature and daily life.
The Tinpa tradition is characterized by naturalism within a highly decorative aesthetic. Patronized by the wealthy townspeople of Kyoto, the decorative Rinpa style was developed by the innovative painter Tawaraya Sotatsu (active circa 1600-1640) and the great calligrapher Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637), who together revived and redefined the classical union between poetry and visual art. Evocative depictions of flowers and plants isolated in abstract compositions are seen in the work of Watanabe Shiko (1683-1755), Nakamura Hochu (died 1819) and others. Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) and his principal student Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858) brought the Rinpa style to Edo (modern day Tokyo), while Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942) was a prime figure in the Kyoto Rinpa resurgence of the early Twentieth Century.
Daily life in the urban centers of the Edo period was the subject of two related styles of popular painting. Genre scenes celebrated the peace and prosperity of the realm, featuring detailed cityscapes of famous places, street festivals, commercial and entertainment districts and the daily hustle and bustle of city life. Similarly, Ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating world.” presented an idealized vision of the exuberant world of the pleasure and entertainment districts. Courtesans and actors were the stars of paintings by such Ukiyo-e masters as Chobunsai Eishi (1756-1829), Teisai Hokuba (1771-1844) and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864).
Continuing and revitalizing an artistic tradition dating back to the Fourteenth Century, Zen Buddhist monks in the Edo period created Zenga, or Zen paintings, using ink brushes to create expressive monochrome works. Zenga was often used as visual aids by Zen masters to communicate Buddhist teachings to students and followers. The revered priest and painter Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) created powerful paintings of great subtlety and wit. Later Zen painters such as Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) and Nakahara Nantenbo (1839-1925 maintained the vibrant spontaneity of the Zen idiom in playful yet poignant works.
Three distinctive Kyoto artists of the Eighteenth Century cannot be readily assigned to any of the other prominent painting traditions and are grouped as the great “individuals” or “eccentrics” of their day. Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) was a prolific painter who mastered all formats, from colorful, highly detailed depictions of animals to the elegantly spare ink-monochrome works featured in this exhibition. Soga Shohaku (1730-1781), a flamboyant and fiercely independent artist who consciously resisted the professional painting world, created edgy, idiosyncratic and haunting paintings. Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) studied under Okyo, but infused wry humor and Zen references into his dramatic and deftly rendered compositions.
The collection of Dr Kurt A. Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen, assembled over the past 35 years, continues to expand, emphasizing significant developments in Japanese painting by highlighting the achievements of master artists and brilliant eccentrics. The collection is currently housed in the Gitter-Yelen Art Study Center in New Orleans, La. “An Enduring Vision” marks the first time that the collection has been presented to New York audiences.
A variety of programs and lectures accompany the exhibition. For information and tickets, www.japansociety.org or 212-752-3015.
A 320-page book accompanies the exhibition. Authored by guest curator Tadashi Kobayashi, professor of art history at Gakushuin University and director of the Chiba Art Museum and edited by Lisa Rotondo-McCord, New Orleans Museum of Art curator of Asian art and exhibition, coordinator, the book also includes contributions by Kurt Gitter, Stephen Addis, Patricia Fister, Patricia J. Graham, Johei Sasaki, James T. Ulak, Masatomo Kawai, Motoaki Kono, John T. Carpenter, Paul Berry, Christine M.E. Guth and Junko Kamata.
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