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Echoes of a Masterpiece: The Lineage of Beauty in Japanese Art

Celebrating the 130th Anniversary of KOKKA and the 140th Anniversary of The Asahi Shimbun
Echoes of a Masterpiece: The Lineage of Beauty in Japanese Art / Heiseikan Special Exhibition Galleries   April 13, 2018 (Fri) - May 27, 2018 (Sun)

  
Cactus and Domestic Fowls (detail), by Ito Jakuchu, Edo period, 18th century (Important Cultural Property, Lent by Saifukuji, Osaka)

A variety of dramatic stories surround the creation of what are now considered “masterpieces” in the history of Japanese art. Moreover, these masterpieces were passed down through the ages and led to the birth of other, extraordinary works of art. Bringing together approximately 120 of these artworks, including National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties from a wide breadth of regions and historical periods, this exhibition will uncover the stories surrounding their creation, explore the shared aesthetic sense they reflect, and study the influence they exerted on one another.

Highlights of the Exhibition

General Information

Art List of Works (PDFPDF 0.57MB)

Highlights of the Exhibition

 

Chapter 1: The Lineage of Faith
Chapter 2: The Lineage of Genius
Chapter 3: The Lineage of Classical Literature
Chapter 4: The Lineage of Motifs and Images

 

 

Chapter 1: The Lineage of Faith

In Buddhist statues, Buddhist paintings and other art forms shaped by faith, representations of the Buddha obeyed certain conventions derived from sutras or sacred rule books. However, this still left room for the development of special artistic traditions, innovative production techniques, and striking forms. The genre produced many superlative works and these served as models for later masterpieces. This chapter features Buddhist statues carved from single blocks of wood, images of Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra) with hands clasped in prayer, and illustrated biographies of Buddhist patriarchs, painted on large screens. These are all shaped by the prayers and beliefs that prevailed from ancient to the medieval times. They combine conventionality with a sense of innovation befitting of great masterpieces.

 

Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra) in Prayer

Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra) is a bodhisattva who descends from the Buddhist Eastern Pure Land to save those who chant the Lotus Sutra. He is said to have radiant pearly skin and to ride on a white elephant with six tusks. Ennin was a disciple of the great Buddhist priest Saicho. He was also instrumental in ensuring the prominence of the Tendai school in Japan. After travelling to Tang dynasty China, Ennin returned to Japan carrying new ink line paintings of Fugen Bosatsu. As faith in the Lotus Sutra spread in the mid-10th century, numerous images of Fugen Bosatsu with hands clasped in prayer were depicted in wood carvings, paintings, and illustrated sutras, for example. Fugen Bosatsu is sometimes accompanied by the Ten Rasetsunyo (Raksasi). These are female deities tasked with protecting Buddhist practitioners. In Japan, they are uniquely portrayed wearing the formal robes of Japanese court ladies.

国宝 普賢菩薩騎象像 平安時代・12世紀 東京・大倉集古館蔵

Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra)
Riding an Elephant

Heian period, 12th century
Okura Museum of Art, Tokyo
National Tresure

  国宝 普賢菩薩像 平安時代・12世紀 東京国立博物館蔵

Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra)
Heian period, 12th century
Tokyo National Museum
National Tresure
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 6, 2018]

 

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Chapter 2: The Lineage of Genius

Masterpieces do not arise unbidden from the minds of geniuses. Instead, they emerge from an interplay between art and people, from an ongoing process of imitation and exploration. Japan’s great masters also studied artworks from overseas and classics from Japan before producing their own unique masterpieces through imitation and innovation. This chapter focuses on three of these masters, Sesshu Toyo, Tawaraya Sotatsu and Ito Jakuchu, and it traces the processes that shaped their representative works.

 

Sesshu and China

Sesshu assimilated the painting styles of Ming-period China and used them to create dynamic and intricate flower-and-bird paintings. Of particular note is the right-hand part of Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons. Sesshu has created a richly-complex space filled with various motifs that range off into the distance. This exhibition also features works by Lu Ji and Yin Hong, two Ming flower-and-bird painters. Though painted at a slightly later date, these clearly reveal Sesshu’s sources of inspirations. Sesshu took contemporary “Chinese” painting styles and re-arranged them in the “Japanese” format of a folding screen painting of the four seasons. In doing so, he created a new style of flower-and-bird painting. This style was perfected by Kano Motonobu, a representative artist from the next generation of painters.

重要文化財 四季花鳥図?風 雪舟等楊筆 室町時代・15世紀 京都国立博物館蔵重要文化財 四季花鳥図?風 雪舟等楊筆 室町時代・15世紀 京都国立博物館蔵
Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons
By Sesshu Toyo, Muromachi period, 15th century, Kyoto National Museum
Important Cultural Property
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 6, 2018]

 

重要文化財 四季花鳥図 呂紀筆
Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons
By Lu Ji, China, Ming dynasty, 15th–16th century, Tokyo National Museum
Important Cultural Property
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 6, 2018]

 

Jakuchu and Imitations

Ito Jakuchu continued to paint roosters and hens throughout his life, a process that culminated in Cactus and Domestic Fowls. The portrayal of a rooster pecking for food traces back to Jakuchu’s early period Plum Tree and Rooster in Snow, for instance, while the humorous expressions, ovoid and triangular bodies, and C-shaped feathers are also familiar motifs from his monochrome ink sketches. The vigorous plumage is also marked by a rough-and-ready ink painting style. This masterpiece is painted on six sliding doors that can be appreciated separately or as one contiguous work. Jakuchu probably familiarized himself with this composition style through the creation of his monochrome ink folding-screen paintings. In this way, we can discern the influence of Jakuchu’s monochrome ink bird pictures on his colored bird paintings

雪梅雄鶏図 伊藤若冲筆 江戸時代・18世紀 京都・両足院蔵 Plum Tree and Rooster in Snow
By Ito Jakuchu
Edo period, 18th century
Ryosoku-in, Kyoto

 

雪梅雄鶏図 伊藤若冲筆雪梅雄鶏図 伊藤若冲筆
Cactus and Domestic Fowls
By Ito Jakuchu, Edo period, 18th century, Saifuku-ji, Osaka
Important Cultural Property

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Chapter 3: The Lineage of Classical Literature

The Tales of Ise and the Tale of Genji are representative examples of classical Japanese literature. Famous scenes from the two works have touched many hearts. They have also provided the inspiration for popular motifs used to decorate craft works such as ceramics, lacquerware and textiles. This chapter examines how these motifs leapt seamlessly from the pages of classical literature to influence a number of masterpieces. These motifs include Yatsuhashi (eight-planked bridge), Mount Utsu, and Tatsutagawa River from the Tales of Ise, for instance, and Yugao (bottle-gourds) and Hatsune (the first warbler) from the Tale of Genji.

 

The Tales of Ise

The Tales of Ise dates back to the early Heian period. It features prose interspersed with several Japanese waka poems, centered around the poems of Ariwara no Narihira. It is unclear who compiled this ancient text or where its title derives from. Chapter nine of the Tales of Ise is called Azumakudari. Popular since olden times, this chapter includes several episodes that have seeped into the popular consciousness. An art aficionado coming across a painting of a bridge crossing a marsh abloom with irises would recognise this as an allusion to the Yatsuhashi (Eight-planked Bridge) episode, for instance, while a mountain path covered with ivy and maples would bring to mind the Utsunoyama (Mount Utsu) episode. This exhibition reveals how motifs from classic literature have influenced Japanese paintings and decorative art.

国宝 八橋蒔絵螺鈿硯箱 尾形光琳作 江戸時代・18世紀 東京国立博物館蔵⑬ Writing Box, Yatsuhashi (eight-planked bridge) design in maki-e lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlay
By Ogata Korin
Edo period, 18th century
Tokyo National Museum
National Tresure
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 6, 2018]

 

The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji recounts the story of the handsome nobleman Hikaru Genji and the beautiful women he encounters throughout his life. It caused a great sensation in courtly Japan during the Heian period. Just as many acclaimed novels today are adapted into movies, the Tale of Genji was soon recreated in pictorial form. These works are called Genji-e, or ?Genji pictures.” Certain chapters were particularly well-loved. These included Yugao (Bottle Gourds), which recounts Genji’s encounter with a woman who captivated him with her fragile beauty, and Hatsune (First Warbler), which depicts Genji in the prime of his life spending New Year at the Rokujo Mansion. Through pictorial representations of these chapters, we can trace the influence of classical literature on Japanese art.

重要文化財 初音蒔絵火取母 室町時代・15世紀 神奈川・東慶寺蔵

Outer Case of Incense Burner, Hatsune (first warbler) design in maki-e lacquer
Muromachi period, 15th century, Tokei-ji, Kanagawa
Important Cultural Property

  夕顔蒔絵大鼓胴 江戸時代・17世紀 東京国立博物館蔵

Frame of Okawa Drum, Yugao (bottle gourds) design in maki-e lacquer
Edo period, 17th century
Tokyo National Museum

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Chapter 4: The Lineage of Motifs and Images

Masterpieces themed around the external natural environment and the inner world of human feelings inherit the forms and superlative techniques of earlier masterpieces while adding bold new interpretations and approaches. This final chapter introduces several paintings and decorative art works under three broad themes: “landscapes,” “flowers and birds,” “people,” and “old and new.” It examines the connection between people and art by tracing how various motifs, images and forms were passed down from medieval times to the early modern period, and from the early modern period to the modern era.

 

The Lineage of Landscapes

Pine trees remain green even throughout the winter months. As such, they featured in Japanese and Chinese artworks as symbols of perennial youth and long life. Japanese-style paintings often depicted pine groves by the seashore. Many colored examples of this genre have survived to the present day. Miho pine Grove was painted by Noami. Noami was in charge of the Ashikaga shogunate’s Chinese painting collection and he studied Chinese monochrome ink paintings. From these, he learnt how to depict air and light using gentle ink-painting techniques. He then used these techniques to paint Japanese scenery. Hasegawa Tohaku was also a keen student of Chinese paintings. He depicted pines up large in his Landscape with Pine Grove and Bridge and he focused solely on pines in the National Treasure Pine Trees. In doing so, he created a uniquely-Japanese ethereal world.

国宝 松林図?風 長谷川等伯筆 安土桃山時代・16世紀 東京国立博物館蔵国宝 松林図?風 長谷川等伯筆 安土桃山時代・16世紀 東京国立博物館蔵
Pine Trees
By Hasegawa Tohaku, Azuchi-Momoyama period, 16th century, Tokyo National Museum
National Tresure
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 6, 2018]

 

The Lineage of Birds and Flowers

The lotus flower is renowned for its enchanting form and its blooming process. In Asia, it is also imbued with religious significance. For these reasons, the lotus has been represented in art since olden times. In China, there was a boom in lotus painting from the Five Dynasties period onwards, with the Lotus Pond and Waterfowls format then emerging during the Southern Song period. Using various techniques, professional painters depicted the motifs with clear outlines, for instance, while painter-priests emphasized the monochrome ink surfaces, and literati painters dashed out their portrayals in one sitting. The waterfowl motifs also shifted away from ducks to herons, a bird associated with success in China’s civil service examinations. These Chinese lotus paintings were brought to Japan in great numbers, and Japanese artists continued to paint lotuses under a variety of religious and civil contexts.

重要文化財 蓮図 能阿弥筆 室町時代・文明3年(1471) 大阪・正木美術館蔵

Lotus
By No' ami
Muromachi period, dated 1471
Masaki Art Museum, Osaka
Important Cultural Property
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 6, 2018]

  重要文化財 蓮池水禽図 江戸時代・17世紀 東京国立博物館蔵

Lotus Pond and Swimming Birds
By Yu Ziming
China, Southern Song dynasty, 13th century
Chion-in, Kyoto
Important Cultural Property

 

The Lineage of Character Studies

国宝 風俗図?風(彦根?風) 江戸時代・17世紀 滋賀・彦根城博物館蔵 国宝 風俗図?風(彦根?風) 江戸時代・17世紀 滋賀・彦根城博物館蔵
Genre Scenes, Known as the "Hikone Screen"
Edo period, 17th century, Hikone Castle Musuem, Shiga, National Tresure
[On exhibit from May 15 to May 27, 2018]

 

重要文化財 湯女図 江戸時代・17世紀 静岡・MOA美術館蔵

Women in Public Bathhouse
Edo period, 17th century
MOA Museum of Art, Shizuoka
Important Cultural Property
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 13, 2018]

  見返り美人図 菱川師宣筆 江戸時代・17世紀 東京国立博物館蔵

Beauty Looking Back
By Hishikawa Moronobu
Edo period, 17th century
Tokyo National Museum

 

The Lineage between Ancient and Modern

1The artist Kishida Ryusei greatly admired the landscapes produced by Katsushika Hokusai based on European copper-plate engravings. Kishida hung a so-called “Edo-painting Kasumigaseki” at his home, which presumably was one of Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s works. A lover of ukiyo-e from age 20, Kishida was probably aware of the works of Hokusai and Kuniyoshi when he created Road Cut through a Hill. Kishida has borrowed the framing of an ukiyo-e picture to depict a road newly-cut through a hill in Tokyo’s Yoyogi district. In doing so, he has emphasized the vividness of the new landscape in a manner that transcends this framing, while also accentuating the mass and vitality of this natural scene of earth and grass.

くだんうしがふち 長谷川等伯筆 安土桃山時代・16世紀 東京国立博物館蔵 Ushigafuchi at Kudan
By Katsushika Hokusai
Edo period, 19th century
Tokyo National Museum
[On exhibit from April 13 to May 13, 2018]

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General Information

Period Friday, April 13 - Sunday, May 27, 2018
Venue Heiseikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30 - 17:00
Fridays, Saturdays, until 21:00
Sundays, April 30 and May 3, until 18:00
(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
Closed Mondays (Except for Monday, April 30)
Admission Adults: 1600 (1400/1300) yen
University students: 1200 (1000/900) yen
High school students: 900 (700/600) yen
Junior high school students and under: Free 
* Prices shown in parentheses indicate advance and group (more than 20 persons) discount tickets.
* Persons with disabilities are admitted free with one accompanying person each (please present an ID at the ticket booth).
*

Advance tickets will be on sale at the museum ticket booths (during museum opening hours excluding the last 30 minutes) and other major ticketing agencies from February 1 to April 12, 2018. End of sales
* Advance pair tickets (two admissions, 2600 yen) will be on sale major ticketing agencies from December 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018. End of sales

* Tickets to this exhibition include one admission to the regular exhibitions on the date of entry.
Access 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
Organizers Tokyo National Museum, Kokka-sha, The Asahi Shimbun,
TV Asahi Corporation, BS Asahi
With the Sponsorship of Takenaka Corporation, Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Corporation
With the Cooperation of Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Ltd., NIPPON EXPRESS CO., LTD.
Catalog, Audio guide The exhibition catalog (2,500 yen) is available at the Heiseikan Special Exhibition Shop and at the museum shop in Honkan (Japanese Gallery). Audio guide (Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean) is available for 550 yen.
General Inquiries 03-5777-8600  (Hello Dial)
Exhibition Website http://meisaku2018.jp/ (in Japanese)

 

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