Japan Society Gallery Presents First Major Retrospective of Hoitsu, Master of the Bravura Gesture
For Six Weeks Only, A Once-in-a-Lifetime Reunion of Two Celebrated Painted Screens
New York, NY – Triumphs of compositional daring and sumptuousness, the paintings and applied arts of the Rimpa (Rinpa) tradition are defining Japanese contributions to world art. It was with an overview of this classical style that Japan Society Gallery first opened its doors in 1971, and it returned to the same theme a decade later, this time featuring, as a kind of coda, six works by Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828).
Now Japan Society Gallery is to present the first U.S. retrospective of Hōitsu, a samurai aristocrat who became a Buddhist monk and dedicated himself to painting and reviving the style of an earlier artist, Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716). Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu opens September 29, 2012 and will remain on view until January 6, 2013.
The exhibition gathers together fifty-eight paintings on folding screens, hanging scrolls, and fans, as well as lacquer and printed books from private and public collections. Foremost among the paintings are Hōitsu’s Waves (1815), a magnificent pair of six-panel screens sheathed in silver leaf,and Kōrin’s Rough Waves (1705), its inspiration. The pair will be shown together during the first six weeks of the exhibition period, through November 4. The Seikadō Bunko Art Museum in Tokyo has never before allowed the Hōitsu screensto travel to the U.S.; the Kōrin screen is a rare loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of five works the Museum is lending to Silver Wind.
“This exhibition could not have happened before,” says Joe Earle, outgoing Director of Japan Society Gallery. “Thanks in no small part to the scholarship and insights of Matthew P. McKelway, we now have a much better idea of Hōitsu’s contributions and those of his most accomplished student, Suzuki Kiitsu.” McKelway, Takeo and Itsuko Atsumi Associate Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University, is curator of Silver Wind and principal author of the accompanying catalogue. “For years to come, this Japan Society publication is likely to be the authoritative account of Hōitsu’s life, art, and influence,” concludes Earle.
“Almost despite his reverence for the past, Hōitsu created something new,” says McKelway. “This was a highly cultivated artist who spoke the same language as his urbane audience. If Hōitsu painted a certain morning glory, the fashionable would recognize that variety as the newest craze; if Hōitsu parted the petals of a white lotus in a certain way, the educated would catch the allusion to a much admired poem.”
Hōitsu came in the ‘autumn’ of the Rimpa movement, which began in the early 1600s as a revival of the classical courtly tradition and continued for three hundred years, with four peaks of activity approximately a century apart. This exhibition focuses on 70 years, between 1788 and 1858, beginning with Hōitsu’s artistic practice as a youth and ending with the further development of his style by Kiitsu.
Although the earliest works on view—Bijinga, or portraits of beautiful women—reflect the influence of contemporary Ukiyo-e artists who were mainly from the commoner class, by the time he was 54 years of age Hōitsu had already devoted many years to methodically researching and reviving the work of Kōrin. In 1815, the centennial of Kōrin’s death served as the impetus for Hōitsu to reinterpret Rough Waves and to synthesize his research into an exhibition and catalogue of Kōrin’s paintings. (Rimpa means, literally, "the school of Kōrin.")
Hōitsu had also begun to perfect a style that called for the kind of sumptuous materials seen in one of the highlights of the exhibition, a rare pair of large-scale six-panel screens entitled Maples and Cherry Trees (after 1817) that will be on view from November 6. Here, the artist enhanced the natural appearance of the painting’s elements with an opulence that would later become characteristic of his work: a generous use of gold and pigments of the very best quality, including, in this case, malachite green that was allowed to run in wet areas of ink to suggest a fine film of moss growing on a tree’s boughs.
Precious lacquered and shell-inlaid medicine cases are juxtaposed with examples of calligraphy and hanging scrolls in the third section, which explores Hōitsu’s social circle and the collaborative nature of his achievement. A highlight is the artist’s own triptych from 1820—three delicately tinted silk scrolls in which a glowing red disk of the rising sun is framed by elegantly rendered blooms symbolic of the four seasons.
The way in which Hōitsu wrested a new, bravura style from earlier, more conventional depictions of nature is suggested in the fifth section of Silver Wind. A defining work here is Persimmon Tree (late autumn 1816), in which five persimmons cling amid wind-tossed leaves to the twisted branches of a tree—an expression of one man’s real emotion, filtered through his subtle and sophisticated grasp of classical tradition.
As the clearest expression of the artist’s naturalistic impulse, a set of twelve extraordinary hanging scrolls entitled Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months occupies the second-to-last gallery in the exhibition. Here one sees Hōitsu, in the last years of his life, animate with seemingly infinite finesse an extraordinary range of flowers and plants, from the indigenous to the cultivated, from the usual subjects and combinations to such others as bees, fireflies, and a dragonfly. The first-month warbler and third-month cherry tree may be included according to poetic formulas, but Hōitsu pairs them with surprising motifs, like a white camellia, Siberian blue robin, and sparrow.
The prodigious task of creating this overflowing natural universe (in at least six surviving complete sets of twelve scrolls) suggests that Hōitsu’s leading pupil Kiitsu played a role in the production of the paintings. Silver Wind closes with a cross-section of works by this artist, who expanded the thematic and stylistic range of Edo-Rimpa painting until his death in 1858.
The great majority of the works of art in Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu come to Japan Society as loans from American collections. Says Joe Earle: “In an era when rising costs and growing conservation concerns often make it difficult to secure major loans from Japan, it is gratifying that the great majority of the exhibits in Silver Wind have come to us from collections within the United States.”
“American art-lovers have been enthusiastically acquiring masterpieces by both Hōitsu and Kiitsu in the four decades since 1971, and none more so than Bob and Betsy Feinberg, who have entrusted us with nearly one quarter of the works in this exhibition,” he concludes.
As well as the Feinbergs, lenders to the exhibition include Asia Society, New York; Berkeley Art Museum; Mary Griggs Burke; Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation; Clark Family Collection, on long-term loan at the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture; Cleveland Museum of Art; The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection, San Antonio Museum of Art; T. Richard Fishbein and Estelle P. Bender Collection; John and Celeste Fleming Family, courtesy of the Denver Art Museum; Gitter-Yelen Collection; Hagoromo Foods Corporation; Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Klaus F. Naumann; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Seikadō Bunko Art Museum; Worcester Art Museum; and Koichi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts.
Japan Society will publish Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu, 1761–1828, the first book in English to focus exclusively on the work of Sakai Hōitsu. Authors are McKelway, Tadashi Kobayashi, former Professor of Art History at Gakushūin University, Tokyo, and Toshinobu Yasumura, Director of the Itabashi Art Museum, Tokyo. The volume comprehensively illustrates the exhibition and features essays exploring Hōitsu's discovery and reinterpretation of Kōrin's artistic legacy; the aesthetics of the Rimpa style; and the career of Suzuki Kiitsu. Paperback with flaps ($40; Japan Society members $35).
In conjunction with Silver Wind, Japan Society Gallery, with the support of the Japanese Art Society of America, is convening a group of distinguished speakers, moderated by Matthew McKelway, to discuss the beauty of Japanese nature as depicted by Hōitsu. Speaking will be: Tadashi Kobayashi, former Professor of Art History at Gakushūin University, Tokyo; Satoko Tamamushi, Professor of Art History at Tokyo’s Musashino University of Fine Arts and a leading authority on the art of Sakai Hōitsu. Haruo Shirane, Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, Columbia University, and author of Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts will serve as discussant.
Lecture: Sakai Hoitsu and the Invention of Rimpa
Thursday, October 18, 2012, 6:30-8:30 pm
Silver Wind curator Matthew McKelway, Takeo and Itsuko Atsumi Associate Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University, will introduce the results of his extensive research into the life and art of Sakai Hōitsu.
Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu is generously supported by the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Chris A. Wachenheim, the Henry Luce Foundation, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, Peggy and Dick Danziger, the Japanese Art Dealers Association, Joan B. Mirviss, Mary J. Wallach, The Japan Foundation, Walter and Marguerite Bopp, Bettina Burr, Barbara Bertozzi Castelli, Sebastian and Mieko Izzard, Kokon, Inc., David Solo, Terry Brykczynski and Andrea L. Miller, T. Richard Fishbein and Estelle P. Bender, Mika Gallery, Erik and Cornelia Thomsen, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Catanzaro, and George and Roberta Mann. Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC. Transportation assistance is provided by Japan Airlines. Exhibitions at Japan Society are made possible in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund and the Friends of the Gallery.
About Japan Society Gallery
Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery’s exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art.
Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture as well as open and critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.
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