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Monday, April 2, 2012

Japanese bird-and-flower paintings up for one month at the National Gallery of Art

At the opening of the exhibition/Patricia Leslie

Śākyamuni Triptych, c. first half of the 1760s ink and colors on silk, Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji Monastery, Kyoto/Patricia Leslie

Nandina and Rooster, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1761-1765
ink and colors on silk
142.6 x 79.9 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

For the first time, large scrolls of 18th century bird-and-flower paintings owned by the Japanese Imperial Household have left that nation. The purpose?  To travel to Washington, D.C. on a special trip in honor of the month-long 100th anniversary of the planting of 3,000 cherry trees which the Japanese gave to the U.S. in 1912.

On the first day of the new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, 7,000 came to see Colorful Realm of Living Beings, "widely considered the greatest work of bird-and-flower painting in Japanese art."

Two years ago the ambassador of Japan approached the National Gallery of Art to discuss an elaborate commemoration in honor of the centennial, said Earl A. Powell, III, director of the National Gallery, at the press unveiling of the exhibition. From that discussion came the presentation of the 30 silk scrolls now on distinguished display until April 29 on the ground level of the West Building.

Not only is it the first time the scrolls have been outside Japan, but it is the first time they have been on display since their six-year restoration and only the second time in more than 100 years that the scrolls and the Buddhist triptych* have been shown together.

Itō Jakuchū
The Buddha kyamuni, from Śākyamuni Triptych, c. first half of the 1760s
ink and colors on silk
142.4 x 79 cm Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji Monastery, Kyoto

The painter was Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800), one of the most inventive artists of the Edo period (1615-1868), whose creativity may be partially explained by his lack of affiliation with traditional art institutions. He was from a wealthy merchant family whose business Jakuchu abandoned in 1755 to pursue Zen Buddhism and painting. Only two years later he began work on these masterpieces which took him a decade to complete.

Jakuchu donated his scrolls and the Buddhist triptych to a major Zen monastery in Kyoto, Shokokuji, whose superintendent priest, Reverend Raitei Arima, spoke at the official Washington unveiling.

In 1889 the monastery transferred the scrolls to the Japanese imperial family but kept the Sakyamuni Triptych which it displays every June 17 as part of a repentance ritual.

At the National Gallery, the scrolls, which are protected by glass or plastic cases, are presented the way the painter intended them, according to the Nikkei Weekly, a Japanese English language newspaper. The three Buddhist paintings stand in the center, surrounded by the 30 scrolls, which is the likely original order of the display at the monastery.

To accompany the display, the National Gallery has scheduled talks, concerts, lectures, films, a public conference, and activities for children. A stunning catalogue with color photographs and detailed close-ups of the scrolls and the triptych on most of its 200-plus pages is available for purchase. 

The people of the United States have the following sponsors to also thank for the once-in-a-lifetime show: Toyota, Nikkei Inc., Airbus, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Daikin Industries, Ltd., Ito En, Ltd., Mitsubishi, and Panasonic.
Itō Jakuchū
Old Pine Tree and Peacock, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30 vertical hanging scrolls
c. 1757–1766, c. 1759-1761
ink and colors on silk, with gold
142.9 x 79.6 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

A huge number of Japanese press covered the exhibition's introduction when eight representatives, from the ambassador of Japan to major sponsors, a monk, the Harvard curator,and the National Gallery director briefly spoke words of welcome and description to communicators.

The only unidentified speaker was a single woman who translated two of the speakers' remarks.

Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, welcomes distinguished guests to the exhibition/Patricia Leslie

His Excellency Ichiro Fujisaki, ambassador of Japan, welcomes visitors/Patricia Leslie

Kazuhisa Sato, treasurer, the Imperial Household Agency/Patricia Leslie

Reverend Raitei Arima, superintendent priest, Shokokuji Monastery, said in translated remarks that he hopes as many people of the U.S. see the exhibition as possible/Patricia Leslie

Yoshimi Inaba, president and COO, Toyota Motor North America, Inc. Colorful Realm marks Toyota's first sponsorship of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. The institutions celebrate 75th birthdays this year.  Inaba said Toyoto employs 200,000 in the U.S./Patricia Leslie

Fuminari Tanaka, Nikkei, Inc./Patricia Leslie

T. Allan McArtor, chairman, Airbus Americas, Inc. welcomes another sponsorship at the National Gallery of Art/Patricia Leslie

Yukio Lippit, guest curator, Harvard University/Patricia Leslie
At the press opening/Patricia Leslie

(* A triptych is a picture or relief carving on three panels which usually hang together vertically and is often used as an altarpiece.)

What: Colorful Realm of Living Beings: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Ito Jakuchu
When: Now through April 29, 2012, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday
Where: The Ground Level, West Building, National Gallery of Art, closest to the Seventh Avenue entrance
Admission: No charge
Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, L'Enfant Plaza, and/or ride the Circulator
For more information:  202-737-4215


Peter Pascal said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is
also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,

The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

Patricia Leslie said...

Thanks for commenting, Peter. Yes, I see what you mean.