Japan through the seasons

Wednesday 5 November 2014, visit conference of the exhibition Japan as the seasons go by at the Cernuschi Museum by Sylvie Ahmadian.

The Cernuschi Museum presents a selection of Japanese paintings from Robert and Betsy Feinberg's collection. This collection, one of the largest outside Japan, is known worldwide for its quality.

The sixty works covering the second half of the Edo period (1615-1868), on different media: vertical scrolls (Kakemono), horizontal rollers (Makimono), screens (byobu), with different mediums and techniques reflect the bond that the Japanese have forged with nature over the centuries and which is reflected in both poetry and painting. Indeed the Japanese have always had a special relationship with nature and particularly this one seen with the passage of the seasons. Contemplation of flowering prunus in spring or from full moon to mid-autumn is still practiced. Some themes are linked to the seasons: prunus, cherry trees and wisteria evoke spring - tangerine in bloom, egrets, cuckoo, water, summer - full moon, bellflower, maple, chrysanthemum, the seven autumn herbs, autumn - pine, bamboo, wild geese, snow, winter. The painted works often respond to a codification and express a literary symbolism.
The exhibition makes it possible to approach the major pictorial currents Nanga et Rinpa.

Called Nanga (Southern painting) or Bunjinga (painting of literati) the current, strongly influenced by Chinese painting of the Ming period. Unlike China, "literate" painters lived by teaching their art or selling their works, a principle contrary to Chinese ethics. They were circles that animated the intellectual life of big cities such as Kyoto. Being marginal, they cultivated a certain taste for individualism and eccentricity. It is fair to note the place given to women in this movement, even if it is modest, unlike other schools of painting.
A pair of six-leaf Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783-1856) screens illustrates the Japanese tradition of painting famous sites. Views of Arashiyama in the spring et Mount Takao in autumn offer similar compositions of mountains and rivers to about the imperial capital, Kyoto. If Mount Arashi and the Hoju River are featured in spring with cherry blossoms, Mount Takao and the Kiyotaki River are depicted in the fall, recognizable by the red foliage of maple trees. Blue and green pigments, fragments of gold leaves evoking clouds or haze inscribe Baiitsu in the tradition of the school Tosa.
Bamboo and waterfalls by the same artist is of a very different style which, while referring to the theme of the "seven literati of the bamboo forest", moves away from traditional clichés: the alternating repetition of bamboo groves and waterfalls creates an abundance and invades the surface.

 Yamamoto Baiitsu.2. View of Mount Takao in autumn  4 bamboos in turmoil.Ike no Taiga  Tani Bunchô 2. Mount Fuji

View of Mount Takao in autumn. Yamamoto Baiitsu

Bamboos in turmoil
Ike no Taiga

Mount Fuji.
Tani Buncho

 Letters in a mountain hermitage looking at spring buds by Ike no Taiga (1723-1776) is characteristic of lettered painting, expressing the ideal of retirement and life in nature. If the composition is clever, the treatment is removed, testifying to the virtuosity of the artist: he combines the method of wrinkles and stains with a discreetly colored wash. Bamboos in turmoil by Ike no Taiga takes up a classic theme of Chinese painting. Image of the scholar "who bends but does not break", bamboo has been classified as one of the "four noble figures" with the chrysanthemum, the plum tree and the orchid, and one of the "three friends of winter With pine and plum. The work reflects the influence of Zen painting by monk artists through its vigor and economy of means.

Clear moon on a fall night by Tani Bunchô (1763-1840) illustrates a Japanese theme transposed from a Chinese model but the inscription mentions an experience lived personally in a real place. Washed reeds echo calligraphy, alternating characters drawn with a nervous brush and diluted ink with thick, dark lines. This work expresses the personal vision of the artist of a particular place and moment even if it is not a work of nature. Mount Fuji from the same artist takes up one of the traditional themes of Japanese painting but paints it in a rather realistic way denoting a Western influence. The technique used is that of ink wash. The abundant vegetation evokes the spring, season during which the work was painted on the ground.

The moon over the seasons of Mochizuki Gyokusen (1834-1913) is in the form of four kakemono whose pieces of fabric used for mounting are covered with a painted decoration in direct connection with the subject of the central image. The foggy sky veiling the moon is framed by the slender branches of budding willows to evoke spring, the cuckoo fluttering over a watercourse point to the summer with a clearer moon behind the mist veil, the plumes of grasses and shoots of despedze framing a full moon illustrate the autumn while the stormy sky contrasting with the night star surrounded by rice fields sprinkled with light snowflakes reminiscent of winter.

 Mochikuzi Gyokusen 2. The moon over the seasons Sakai Hosu 2.Flowers and birds.5th month  Sakai Hitsu 2. The ivy trail of Mount Utsu
The moon over the seasons

Mochizuki Gyokusen

Flowers and birds.5th month

Sakai Hitsu

The ivy trail of Mount Utsu

Sakai Hitsu

 The pictorial current Rinpa (school of Korin) is defined by clean forms highlighted by bright colors and compositions of great readability. Pieces Rinpa are sometimes considered decorative, but the aesthetic search doubles poetic and literary depth.

The six-leaf screen Maple trees in autumn by Tawara Sôri (active circa 1764-1780) combines two types of composition: decentration and dispersion of the motifs combined with a close-up view which highlights the trunks and the colors of the foliage, which ranging from hard bright green to vermilion red indicates the passage of time.

Flowers and birds over the months of Hutsu Sakai (1761-1828) comes in twelve kakemono each illustrating a month of the year. While referring to the poems of Teika (1162-1241) he stands out by taking liberties in the association of plants and birds, as well as by representing plants recently introduced in the archipelago or by introducing insects in his compositions. This set is characterized by a slightly cold elegance and a great sobriety combined with a subtle and light refinement. The two-leaf screen The ivy trail of Mount Utsu from the same artist illustrates a passage of Tales of Ise (IX-Xth century): a nobleman going to the East crosses Mount Utsu and, seized by the melancholy of the place, he composes a poem intended for his wife who remained in the capital. The triangular composition is enhanced by the simplification of forms and the treatment of shrubs and mountains. The nobleman who is the center of it, is represented writing the poem which he will give to the wandering ascetic seen from behind.
The pair of two-leaf screens crane of Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858) was at the origin of the sliding doors. Kiitsu is considered the last master of the current Rinpa but, by his research, he announces the development of the current Nihonga from the Meiji period (1868-1912). Here, the two groups of cranes stand out against a gilded background and their layout, their different attitudes create an effect of depth. The naturalistic treatment of birds contrasts with the extreme simplification of the landscape and shows a certain freedom with respect to tradition.

Peacock and peonies by Maruyama Ôkyo (1733-1795), one of the founders of the school Maruyama-Shijo, advocated the work on the ground like Western artists. Its realism is based on the search for volumes, the use of linear perspectives and shading to translate nature and its changes. In this diagonal composition, Okyo painted the peacock and the flowers using shading to create volume but the rocks remain treated in a traditional Chinese way. The density of the colors of the bird contrasts with the delicacy of the colors of the peonies. The diptych Monkeys in the pines in front of a waterfall by Mori Sosen (1747-1821) shows an asymmetrical composition that plays on an opposition of full and empty, activity and serenity. The artist has created an ascending visual link between the climbing monkeys and the male, chief of the tribe, who sits at the top. Sosen uses the technique of "bone-free painting" (mokkotsuga), that is to say without contour, for the rendering of the animals' fur and a wash punctuated with dots of ink for the vegetation. The expressions and movements of the monkeys testify to a remarkable study of nature.

 Peacock and peonies. Maruyama Okyo_mentions Mori Sosen 2. Monkeys in the pines in front of a waterfall.2 Suzuki Shonen 2.Lune in the clouds

Peacock and peony
Maruyama Okyo

Monkeys in the pines in front of a waterfall
Mori Sosen

Moon in the clouds
Suzuki Shonen

Moon in the clouds of Suzuki Shonen (1849-1918) belongs to the pictorial current Nihonga (Japanese painting) whose artist was an important member. As opposed to Western influences, the current Nihonga revives Japanese and Chinese traditions of silk or paper wash techniques. The full fall moon emerges from clouds, and the blue, yellow, and gray washings that surround the white pools give the impression of a whirlwind and accentuate the dramatic effect. The upper and lower brocades are decorated with motifs painted by the artist.
Prêles and dragonflies by Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918) is a work of great subtlety and poetry. Dragonflies and horsetails evoke the beginning of autumn. The vertical construction gathered on the right side of the kakemono is broken by two oblique, a dragonfly clings to one ear while the other flies, accentuating the emptiness that surrounds it.

Thanks to this exhibition, the Parisian public has the opportunity to discover a little known aspect of Japanese painting.


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