Special Exhibition: Celebrating the Beauty of Japanese Art III:
Flourishing Talents in edo
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. Part three of the exhibition is titled eFlourishing Talents in Edo Paintingf and features ukiyo-e depicting folk customs from the Edo period and Genre painting from the Early modern period. Also on display are works from artists of the Rinpa school: designs from the Momoyama period as interpreted by Edo townspeople. The third volume of the eIllustrated Scrolls on the Courtier Ban Dainagonf is also on display.

Beauty Changing Clothes      
Kitagawa Utamaro
Important Cultural Property
Chobunsai Eishi
The exhibition first looks at ukiyo-e, surely one of Japanfs greatest exports, with four hand painted pictures. Kitagawa Utamarofs eBeauty Changing Clothesf (Important Cultural Property) is a fine example of ukiyo-e from the Idemitsu collection. The work exudes an eroticism characteristic of Utamaro. Bold highlights typical of Okubi-e portait woodblock prints are absent in this work; Utamaro succeeds in capturing an understated beauty. Utamaro expertly creates a gentle expression no doubt to suit the commissionerfs taste. Following on from this are Katsushika Hokusaifs eBeauties of the Spring and Autumnf, Chobunsai Eishifs eBoatingf and Utagawa Toyohirofs eBeauties on Pilgrimage to Masaki Inari Shrinef.

In a full-length portrait, Hokusai captures a beauty with fine features, often seen in his work. The pattern of the kimono and accessories imbue the painting with a sense of seasonality.

In Eishifs work, geisha who have descended onto the sandbank at the side of the Eidai bridge provide the focus of the painting. Eishi uses the oblong screen to great effect to capture the scene: the group pleasure boating in the large river enjoying the moon, the full moon above, the bridge on the left, and even a drunk and a red faced man holding a drum at the bottom. The contracted brush strokes serve to reveal the expansive scene.

In Utagawa Toyohirofs ePilgrimagef we see the main building of a shrine and torii which resemble those of the Inari Shrine at Masaki. Two beauties cross the bridge in the foreground as if approaching the shrine. This is no doubt a splendid demonstration of the perspective used by Toyohirofs master Utagawa Toyoharu.

Famous views in Edo(part)
Important Cultural Property
Moving back in time to early Edo, next we have Genre painting. A gem of the Idemitsu collection, eFamous Views in Edof (Important Cultural Property) is a masterpiece. In this work, we see key scenes of Edo: Senso-ji, Nihon Bashi, the Nichomachi theatre beneath the towering keep of Edo Castle, the vast tiled roof of Zojo-ji and the fishing grounds at Shibahama. Despite the fact that western Edo does not feature in these scenes, the screen serves as a wonderful snapshot of Edo as it transforms into the largest city in Japan.

Famous Views In and Around Kyoto
Another work which captures Early modern urban scenery is efFamous Views In and Around Kyoto. We see the imperial palace in the centre of both sides of the screen. Nijo Castle, a symbol of the Tokugawa clan, appears on the left side of the screen; on the right side we see the Toyotomi clanfs symbol: the Great Buddha Hall at Hoko-ji. This indicates that the piece is from the Early Edo period. However, the Great Buddha Hall is dwarfed by the huge Nijo Castle, which suggests that the axis of power has already begun to shift. This provides the key to determining the provenance of the piece.

Scenes of Western Traders and Missionaries in Japan
(Folding screens of Sothern Barbarian)
An unforgettable work of Early modern Genre painting has to be eScenes of Western Traders and Missionaries in Japanf. In this scene, we see foreign ships docking at port, a troupe of foreigners marching the streets and curious Japanese stealing glances at them. Also depicted is the church Nanban-ji, which functioned as an embassy for the foreigners. By using a gold screen for this scene, the artist highlights the foreignersf appearance: the white and black tones of their skin, in contrast to the Japanese; and their exotic dress.

People enjoying Kabuki performance

Elsewhere, we have two works which played an important role in the development of Genre painting depicting folk customs: ePeople enjoying Kabuki performancef and eScroll of Shiki-Himachif by Hanabusa Itcho. eKabukif depicts an early kabuki performance, considered to have first been performed by Izumo no Okuni. In the finely detailed scene, male audience members cheer the dancing women while female audience members avert their eyes from the display.

Hanabusa Itcho painted the scenes of Edo life which comprise the eScroll of Shiki-Himachif during his exile to Miyake-jima under the unpopular eLaws of Compassionf government orders. The scenes were only assembled into one scroll once Itcho returned to Edo following an official pardon. Itchofs detailed scenes of Edofs population at play also bring to mind his own colourful past.

Scene from the Tale of Ise
Musashino &
Tawaraya Sotatsu

Hotei Playing with
a ball(kemari)
Ogata Korin
Finally, we come to works from the Rinpa school of the late Edo period. The first instalment of this exhibition included early pieces from the Rinpa school by Honami Koetsu and screens by Tawaraya Sotatsu. This third instalment includes a sketch by Tawaraya Sotatsu, eScene from Tales of Isef and a collaboration with Koetsu ePoem scroll with underpainting of lotusf, which demonstrate the high calibre of Sotatsufs work. The focus here is the work produced by artists living in Edo, known as the eEdo Rinpaf, established when Ogata Korin and Ogata Kenzan's left the capital for Edo. A masterpiece among these works is eHotei playing with a ballf, an early piece by Ogata Korin. The three spherical forms of the kickball (kemari) high in the air, the monk Hoteifs potbelly and his gigantic bag create a wonderful rhythm and show the young Korinfs assured ability. In eRitual purificationf, attributed to Korin, we see bold omission and expressive running water; the characteristic level plane creates a beautiful line of flow. In the picture scrolls created by Korin as model paintings for Kezanfs tea bowls are plum blossom, pine trees, cloth bags and horses. These have an appeal much like that of Hokusaifs drawings.

Wind and Thunder Gods
Sakai Hoitsu

Elsewhere are works produced by Sakai Hoitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu after Korin. The Rinpa genealogy is evident in Hoitsufs eRed and White Plum Blossomsf, fWind and Thunder Godsf and eIrises and bridge (Yatsuhashi)f. However, a sensitivity distinct from Korinfs work is present within the worksf design and sense of rhythm. In the unique eBirds and Flowers of the Twelve Monthsf we see Hoitsufs distinctive rendering of the birds and flowers. The silver leaf of the earth in eRed and White Plum Blossomsf is another signature of Hoitsu.

Birds and Flowers of Twelve Months(part)
Sakai Hoitsu

Kiitsu was one of Hoitsufs chief students. In both eAutumn Grassesf and eTree and Flowers of the Four Seasonsf Kiitsu employs a bold style to capture his subjects. However, in eAutumn Grassesf the subject is overly big; in eTree and Flowers of the Four Seasonsfthe negative space dominates the composition, making the giant tree in the Momoyama style seem stunted.

The florid style of Edo painting is evident in this collection; yet there is a sense of vitality in the form and richness of works from the Momoyama period to early Edo. As we enter the late Edo period, the formal aspect is striking. What saved Edo painting from formalism was the free portraiture of ukiyo-e painters, but it is dispiriting to witness this descent into formal conservatism. Ultimately, the focus shifted from Edo painting to folk art based on ukiyo-e.

Autumn Grasses(part)
Suzuki Kiitsu
Tree and Flowers of the Four Seasons
Suzuki Kiitsu

The third instalment of this anniversary exhibition has allowed us to see the development of Japanese painting. This has only been made possible through the commendable efforts of the staff at the Idemitsu collection, to whom I would like to extend my gratitude.  

The Exhibition catalogue is available at Idemitsu museum shop