Edo Rimpa
Idemitsu Museum of Arts
Professor Keiko Nakamachi, Jissen Womenfs University

Rimpa, a quintessentially Japanese painting idiom that first emerged in Kyoto in the 17th century, would see a  revival nearly two hundred years later in nineteenth century Edo (todayfs Tokyo).  In the hands of artists Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) and his student Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), the Rimpa style would be taken to a new level.  Today, these works are referred to as Edo Rimpa and they form the focus of the exhibition held last autumn at  the Idemitsu Museum, entitled eEdo Rimpaf.  Rimpa art had originally been prized by Kyotofs wealthy  merchants  (chonin) and courtiers for its elegance (in Japaense, eMiyabif).  One of the strengths of the  Idemitsu exhibition is that it demonstrates the ways in which the style was subsequently modified and adapted  by artists of very different social standing - Hoitsu himself was of warrior (buke) extraction whilst Kiitsu was a  commoner.  The exhibition draws mainly on works in the Idemitsufs own collection, nonetheless it successfully  demonstrates the principal characteristics of Edo Rimpa painting.


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Eight-plank Bridge
Sakai Hoitsu
Idemitsu Museum of Arts


Korinfs successors

The first part of the exhibition, entitled eThe Rimpa Gazef, focuses on the work of Hoitsu, who was strongly influenced by the early eighteenth century Kyoto Rimpa artist, Ogata Korin.  The eEight plank bridgef (yatushashi) screen (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the eWind God and Thunder Godf screen (Tokyo National Museum) are both based on Korinfs works of the same title, they are nonetheless more than simple copies.  Hoitsu made significant modifications to his models, both in terms of colour and layout; most importantly, his eEight plank bridgef screen is painted on silk as opposed to Korinfs painted on paper.  The gold of the background is consequently more subdued.  The exhibition also includes the album eOne hundred paintings by Korinf compiled by Hoitsu and this helps to illustrate the principle ways in which Hoitsu adapted and developed Korinfs iconographies.  

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Wind God and Thunder God
Sakai Hoitsu
Idemitsu Museum of Arts

Gold and Silver

Unlike the gold screens of the Kyoto Rimpa artists Tawaraya S?tatsu (dates unknown) and Ogata Korin (1658-1716), Hoitsu produced a handful of extraordinary screens with silver backgrounds.  Less brilliant, more restrained, these reflect the aesthetic of the early decades of the nineteenth century.   Exposed to the air, silver plate will oxidise and blacken yet in Hoitsufs screen the oxidisation process has been successfully stalled and the screens retain their original appearance.  Another trademark of Hoitsufs work is the lavish double-sided screen ? the front painted on a gold ground, the reverse on silver. Representative of these works is Korinfs gold eGods of Wind and Thunderf screen, on the reverse of which Hoitsu painted (on a silver ground) his  eSummer flowers, autumn grassesf (this work is now divided into two separate screens, both in the Tokyo National Museum).  The present exhibition also shows Hoitsufs small format double-sided screen, the front depicting flowers of the four seasons on gold, the reverse depicting blue waves against a silver ground.  Despite its small size, this is a particularly fine piece, all the more precious because it is the only Hoitsu double-sided screen to remain intact.  It seems probable that his eRed and white plumf screen, also painted on a silver ground, once boasted a gold front.


Rain and wind

One of Hoitsufs most representative works, the 'Flowers, and grasses of summer and autumnf screen  (Tokyo National Museum) is particularly notable for its careful depiction of nature.  With the rain beating down on the summer flowers, and the autumn grasses swept by winds, Hoitsu was clearly trying to capture a sense of the immediacy of nature. The under-drawing for the painting is now mounted as a screen in its own right.  Interestingly, the sense of wind in the painted screen ? conveyed by means of powerful, taut brush strokes, is absent from the original drawing.  


Sunner and Autumn Grasses
Sakai Hoitsu
Tokyo National Museum
Important Cultural Property

Insects

Unlike S?tatsu and Korin, who rarely depicted insects and birds in their flower and grasses screens, Hoitsu would include a dragonfly in his eIrisf screen, whilst Kiitsu placed a cricket in his eAutumn grassesf screen. Both consequently show a keen awareness of the physical world and a close attention to seasonal change.  The depiction of insects also contributes to the overall structure of the paintings, creating a sense of inner tension.  These are particularly fine specimens of Edo Rimpa art.


The Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter and Ukiyo-e Painting

In his twenties, Hoitsu was a keen kyoka (mad verse) poet and he also painted subjects from the Floating world (ukiyo).   A close friend of the literatus ?ta Nanp? (1749-1823), he was also deeply familiar with Edo popular culture.  A work that dates to this period is his eCourtesan and Kamurof hanging scroll (1787), depicting the courtesan Hanaogi on her way to a tea house.  The scroll carries a mad verse composed by Nanp? and brushed by Hanaogi herself.  Images of courtesans often show them clad in lavish designs, but there is nothing brash about Hanaogifs clothing, and this restrained aesthetic combined with Hanaogifs inscription, sets the present scroll apart from normal floating world images.  It is a work that speaks to Hoitsufs deep familiarity with the Yoshiwara.


Screen mountings

Both Hoitsu and Kiitsu favoured painted, as opposed to fabric mountings for their hanging scrolls.  Painted mountings had long beenused in Buddhist painting, but Hoitsu and Kiitsu would extend this form even to such respected themes as the eThirty six Poeticimmortalsf.   In design terms, this can feel at times almost excessive, but it again illustrates the particular aesthetic that emergedtowards the end of the Tokugawa period.


Towards a Modern Aesthetic

Some of the innovation of Edo Rimpa can be seen in the bold design of Kiitsufs eCherry and Maplef screen.  The monumental formsof the green maples and the cherry trees suggested only by the crests of pale peach coloured blossom in the lower foreground, set itapart from traditional, more descriptive flower and bird paintings.  The screen is a good example of late Tokugawa period (bakumatsu)artists breaking away from convention to create a modern new aesthetic.  


No institution other than the Idemitsu could have put on a comparable exhibition of Edo Rimpa painting.  Whilst the organisation of thedisplays could have been improved to maximise the impact of these stunning works, there is no question that the show contains manytruly outstanding exhibits.