Special Exhibition: Celebrating the Beauty of Japanese Art I:
Four Seasons inYamato-e
at  Idemitsu Museum of Art
Review by Masayuki Fujiura
Translation by Alice Caffyn
This exhibition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts. The exhibition is split into three installments:yamato-e (Japanese style painting), suiboku-ga (ink painting) and Edo painting. Related crafts and sculpture will also be featured as  part  of the exhibition. Each of the three installments will feature one volume of the eIllustrated Scrolls on the Courtier Ban  Dainagonf which will  also  be displayed across the three exhibitions.

This first of the three exhibitions is titled eFour Seasons in Yamato-ef. Artworks from the Heian to Edo period are collected under  the  theme of the four seasons: a uniquely Japanese mode of expression. The expression of seasonality in painting has not been been  explored  much outside of Japan. However, in Japanese painting, seasonality has come to express temporality, and is considered a key  component  of landscape painting. Elsewhere, within works inspired by China, India and other countries without a traditional seasonal  aesthetic, any  incorporation of the seasons feels humorous.

This exhibition begins with picture scrolls from the late Heian period, which could be called the genesis of yamato-e. Considered a  masterpiece narrative illustrated scroll, the eIllustrated Stories on the Courtier Ban Dainagonf (Heian Period) is a highlight. In this  exhibition, only the first volume of the scroll is displayed. This first volume depicts the origin of the tale: the destruction by arson of  one  of the main gates of the Kyoto imperial palace, the Otenmon. The first volume depicts the destruction in one sprawling scene;  the  extension  of the scene is longer than any of the other volumes. Beyond the gate we see officials charged with keeping publicorder  and  the  common people gathered to watch the blaze. Within the gate is a group of low ranking officials who worked within the  imperial  court;  from within the imperial palace, a mysterious figure gazes at the distant fire. Among other figures, one who appears  to  be   Chancellor of the Realm, Fujiwara no Yoshifusa, can be seen reporting to the Emperor in the imperial residence.

Illustrated Stories on the Courtier Ban Dainagon
12th Century
National Treasure

Knowing what followed this event, we understand that this was the political manoeuvre used by the Fujiwara clan who were part of the  inner circle of government to take power from the Tomoji clan, descendants of the powerful Omoji clan. However, the veracity of  this  has  never been established. This picture scroll is based on a whispered story; it has been painted with some inference added tothe true  story.  The movement of the figures is expressed vividly in a way not seen in previous scrolls, and fully demonstrates the  uniqueness  of  the picture scroll as a Japanese form of expression.

Other illustrated scrolls on display include the eIllustrated Sutra of Past Causes and Present Effectf (Nara Period, Important Cultural  Property) recognised by many as the original illustrated scroll. The work adds pictorial art to the eSutra of Cause and Effect in the  Past  and Presentf which depicts the life of the Gautama Buddha. Two works taken from the masterwork ePictures of the Thirty-Six  Immortals of  Poetryf: eKakinomoto no Hitomarof and eSojo Henjof (Kamakura period, both Important Cultural Properties) and  eIllustrated Scroll of the Story of Priest Saigyof (Tawaraya Sotasu, Edo period, Important Cultural Property), a masterpiece of  Medieval scrolls, reveal  the  development of pictorial expression in Japanese art.

Predominantly produced in the Momoyama period, suiboku-ga succeeded the picture scroll. These works, however, will be collected  and  displayed in the second exhibition.

Illustrated Sutra of Past and Present Effects
Artist: Unknown
8th Century
Important CulturalProperty

Frequently displayed in the Momoyama period, next are folding screens. These include from the Muromachi period: eFolding Screens  of  the Birds and  Flowers of the Four Seasons with the Sun and the Moonf (Important Cultural Property), eFolding Screens of the  Flowering  Plants of the Four Seasonsf (Important Cultural Property); from the Momoyama period, eRiver Uji with Its Banks and  Bridgef and eCherry Blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsutaf and from the early Edo period eAutumn Grasses under the  Moonf and  eFolding  Screens of the Flower and Grasses of the Four Seasonsf.

Among the Muromachi folding screens, in the eFolding Screens of the Birds and  Flowers of the Four Seasons with the Sun and the  Moonf there is no fixed scale of size to the flowering trees. The mist which hangs at the top of the painting appears to have been  painted  in  silver  paint. This, however, has since dulled to black.

Elsewhere, in eFlowering Plants of the Four Seasonsf, although we sense the Yamato-e style in the form of the mounds of earth, in  the  vegetation, the so-called reverse perspectives typical of Chinese painting are evident. This gives the impression that various  motifs  have  been selected and included for practical reasons.

Birds and Flowers of  the Four Seasons with the Sun and the Moon
Artist: Unknown
15th Century

The eRiver Uji with Its Banks and Bridge' from the Momoyama period, depicts the transformation of the so-called eWillows at Uji  Bridgef  from spring to winter. The bridge appears only on one side of the screen; on the other side portraying autumn and winter,  the  flow of the  river and a boat are visible. This is a work with strong decorative expression. The majority of other works use the  sun  and  moon to express  transience in scenes, but this work through its depiction of the changing seasons, the fields and the flowof the  river  succeeds in expressing the breadth of the entire scene.

River Uji with Its Banks and Bridge
Artist: Unknown
17th Century

The composition of eCherry Blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsutaf breaks the conventions of Yamato-e. Both the  cherry  blossoms on one side of the screen and the maple leaves on the other spread across the entire scene as if to cover it  completely.  No  gaps  are visible. Any sense of negative space, so prevalent in Japanese culture, is lost. This is unprecedented within  the  tradition of  Japanese  painting.  

Cherry Treee and Maple Tree
Artist Unknown
16th Century

In contrast to this, Tawaraya Sotatsufs eFlowers and Grasses of the Four Seasonsf focusses on plants popular since the beginning  of  Edo, in which we can see an effective use of negative space. This is continued further in Ogata Kenzanfs eSliding Screen of  Flowersf. In  this  small scene, delicate flowers adorn the screen as if they fit the size of the work; we can see that this is the same  delicate  decoration as  used in  Kenzan pottery.
Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons
With seal of 'Inen'
17th Century

Before these works depicted the changing seasons, the works most influenced by Chinese painting in Medieval painting were Buddhist  paintings. In this exhibition, beginning with the above mentioned eIllustrated Sutra of Past Causes and Present Effectf exhibits includeePaintings of the Eight Patriarchs of Shingon Sect Buddhismf (Heian period, designated Important Cultural Property), eThe Descentof  Amida Buddhaf (Kamakura period), eAmida and Attendant Bodhisattvas Coming Across the Mountainsf (Period of the Northernand  Southern Dynasties, Important Art Object), eEleven Headed Kannonf (Period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties),eIllustrated  Story  of the Origin of Hase-dera Templef and 'Illustrated Scroll of the History of Kitano-Tenjin Shrine, Kyotof.

Eight Patriarches of the Singon Sect Buddhism
Artst: Unknown
Set of Eight Hanging Scroll
Dated 1136
Important Cultural Property

Within Buddhist painting, there is an assumption that limitations of technique have meant that there have been no real developments  in  the form. However, this is not the case. For example, within depictions of the descent of Amida Buddha, in Buddhist art work from  the  Goryeo dynasty, Amida Buddha is depicted standing on the right side of the picture facing left whereas in Japanese painting the  figure  of  Amida Buddha appears standing on the left facing right. Even in this exhibition, the Amida Buddha appears in the centre of  the  picture,  but  accompanying Kannon holding a lotus flower and Magasthamaprapta, hands clasped in prayer, are visible behind. The  descending  figure is depicted clearly facing right, where we sense the presence of spirits of the dead awaiting the Amida Buddha.This  highlights  the  originality of Japanese painting. eIllustrated Scroll of the History of Kitano-Tenjin Shrine, Kyotof was painted in  honour  of  Sugawara  no  Michizane after his death; they depict various events in the history of Kyoto. As a result, the work has  become  associated  with  the  shrinefs foundation. This expression of narrativity is also evident in ePaintings of the Eight Patriarchsof  Shingon  Sect  Buddhismf. It is  thought by many that instead of functioning as a portrait of the eight monks identified as the  founders of  the  Shingon  Sect, in  portraying  two or three scenes illustrating their achievements, the work supports the legitimacy  of  the  teachings  of  Shingon  Buddhism.  These  achievements are depicted in the legends of other sect founders and are one  expression  of so  called  eexplanation by picturef.

The Descent of Amida Buddha and Attendant Bodhisattvas
Artist: Unknown
Set of Three Hanging Scrolls
14th Century

In this way, although there are traditionally limitations concerning the form of Buddha, the elements which dramatise the narrativity  appeal to the Japanese sensibility. Narrative elements are essential to Japanese art, including Buddhist art. This is because many  Japanese paintings are grounded in the literary tradition. The Nara and Heian periods saw the composition of waka and stories, as well  as the production of art based on those literary works. This tradition has continued since the Medieval period, and provides the  foundation for Japanese art.
This Japanese tradition is evident in suiboku-ga from the Muromachi period onwards, Genre works popular in the Edo period, even in  Ukiyo-e. The second and third instalments of this exhibition will continue to explore this theme.  

Illustrated Story of the Origin of Kitano-Tenjin Shrine, Kyoto
Artist: Unknown
15th Century
Important Art Object

The Exhibition catalogue is available at Idemitsu museum shop