Special Exhibition: Celebrating the Beauty of Japanese Art II:
Sublimity of Suiboku
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. This is the second of three instalments , titled eSublimity of Suibokuf.Featured in this exhibition are suiboku-ga (ink painting) works from the Chinese Song dynasty, which were introduced to Japan in the Muromachi period and greatly influenced Japanese painting from the medieval period onwards. Alongside these are Japanese suiboku-ga paintings dating from the medieval to early-modern period, and works from the early modern period by Japanese artists in the bunjin-ga genre, after the Chinese Southern school. The second volume of the illustrated eScrolls on the Courtier Ban Dainagonf is also on display.
Evening storm over the mountain village
First in this exhibition are masterpieces from the Southern Song Dynasty, which became models for Japanese suiboku-ga. The two artists are from the early Yuan Dynasty, Chinese Zen (Chan) Buddhist monk and painter Yujian, who produced eEvening storm over the mountain villagef from the series eEight Views ofthe Xiao and Xiang Riversf and Muqi Fachang, of the Chinese Southern school, who produced eGeese descending on a sandbankf and eCrested Mynaf. Also featured are Mao Lunfs eHerdboy and Water Buffalof (Yuan Dynasty) and Xu Zuofs eFishermanf. In these Chinese masterworks, we can almost sense the assured gaze of the merchants, familiar with the tastes of their Japanese patrons and that of the Japanese intellectual class which had been brought up on such imported works. This exhibition explores the influence of these Chinese works on Japanese painters from the Muromachi period onward.
Important Cultural Property
Sesshu Toyo is widely regarded as master of Japanese suiboku-ga. In his eSplashed Ink Landscapef we see the unaffected and simple expression which freed Japanese artists from the intricate style of Chinese painting. This work represents the advent of Japanese suiboku-ga. Here we also see Sesshufs uniquely sparse use of ink.
Southern Song Dynasty
Southern Song Dynasty
Splashed Ink Landscape
Tensho Shubun was a contemporary of Sesshu; Tensho is considered by some to have even been Sesshufs master. The inscription to Zen Buddhist monks at the top of Tenshofs eCottage for awaiting Flowersf is evidence that suiboku-ga were displayed predominantly in Zen temples during the Muromachi period. Here we see an elaborate style, not unlike that of the Northern school: the pine trees, buildings, and even the figure of a boy clearing the front garden are all finely detailed.eWest Lakef folding screens are a delight: attributed to Kano Motonobu, this piece provides the foundation of the Kano school. Mountainous rock formations at either edge of the screen enclose the flat surface of the water in the centre. This composition would subsequently become the standard for Muromachi screen painting.
As we enter the Momoyama period, we have two screens by the master of suiboku-ga and self-proclaimed fifth generation Sesshu, Hasegawa Tohaku. The first iseCrows on Pine and Egrets on Willowf, commonly known as eCrows and Egretsf which hugely influenced the form of Japanese painting from the early modern period onwards. On one side of the screen, a pair of crows on a giant pine tend to their chicks; on the reverse we see an egret perched on a large willow, its mate soaring above. In both scenes, brushes of gold in the negative space add a hint of colour to this monochrome world.
Crows on Pine and Egrets on Willow
Bamboo and Cranes
The second screen, eBamboo and Cranesf depicts a pair of Cranes nesting in a grove. On one side of the screen, we see the form of the male calling with head raised. On the reverse, the female responds to her matefs call. Although she closely resembles one of Kano Motonobufs six cranes, the female crane is depicted incubating her eggs in a tall clump of reeds. This is unconventional in terms of the Kano school, which typically portrayed the other of the pair in flight. The result of this choice is an unusual composition which draws the eye to the bottom of the screen. In this piece too, we have the impression of a sweep of gold paint. The use of ink gradation in the bamboo clumps creates depth; this is a technique which Tohaku would later perfect in his masterpiece ePine Treesf.
The second theme of this exhibition is the bunjin-ga genre. Bunjin-ga, often called eliterati paintingf in China refers to works by those who were neither bureaucrats nor professional painters. However, the methods used by these Chinese literati painters became the favoured mode of expression of professional painters in Japan.
Key to the development of the genre in Japan were Ike no Taiga and the poet Yosa Buson. Within their landscape painting these two create a more Japanese composition by coupling Chinese bunjin-ga techniques with seasonality, so important to the Japanese sensibility. In a pair of six fold screens by Ike no Taiga titledeLandscape of the Twelve Monthsf, Taiga captures the charm of each month, but employs a different brush stroke for the facing screens, liberally employing six different styles in total. This was a technique favoured by Taiga.
Landscape of the Twelve Months (part)
Ike no Taiga
Important Cultural Property
Elsewhere, Yosa Busonfs folding screen eLandscapef is distinctly Chinese in style although it is doubtful that Chinese bunjin-ga painters would have such large scale works. Furthermore, the evocation of a mood more typical of Japanese sensibilities often seen in Taigafs work is absent here. This is an interesting point of contrast between the two painters. Other artists working in the bunjinga genre, and contemporary to Ike no Taiga and Yosa Buson, include Uragami Gyokudo, Aoki Mokubei, Tanomura Chikuden, Okada Hanko, Tani Buncho, Yamamoto Baiitsu, Watanabe Kazan and Tomioka Tessai.
Important Cultural Property
Gyokudo paints mountain masses shrouded in cloud; the layering of the mountain formations in a portrait scene expresses the depth of the distant mountains. Also known as a ceramic artist, Mokubei, while at once imitating Gyokudofs style, creates mountain scenes using a bolder line to evoke the mountain ranges and ridges. Okada Hankofs work takes a step closer to creating distinctly Japanese mountain formations, clear in form. In contrast to this is Tanomura Chikuden, who paints mountains as flat as hills; the inclusion of a farmer evokes the Chinese style and the surrounding trees are blossoming and appear to be bearing fruit. Here,we can see the signature of a Japanese bunjin-ga painter in his seasonal motifs.
Finally, in Baiitsufs eNunobiki Fallsf we see one section of the waterfall together with a cliff made up of finely detailed rocks. The artistfs honestly of purpose is palpable in this piece. A preliminary sketch by Buncho shows the elements which he wishes to capture. Kazanfs piece depicting a cormorant attempting to swallow a sweet fish , as an intricate piece does not fit into the bunjn-ga genre. However Yamamoto Baiitsufs credentials as someone involved in politics, qualifies him as a true member of the Japanese literati. Tessai was a contemporary of Kazan, but his technique marked by bold brush strokes stands in contrast.
Looking at the exhibition as a whole, I realise that many Japanese bunjin-ga are collected in art galleries and museums in Western Japan, predominantly in the Osaka-Kobe area. Indeed, it is rare to see such an exhibition of bunjin-ga in East Japan. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that founder of the Idemitsu Collection, Idemitsu Sazo, was a Kyushu native.
I was impressed by the breadth of the Idemitsu collection through this exhibition. I look forward to the third and final installment of this exhibition exploring Edo painting.