Painting and ceramics in dialogue
Tour of the exhibition with commentary by Mael Bellec, Chief Curator at the Cernuschi Museum.
In 2018, Harley Hall Preston (1940-2015), art historian, bequeathed nearly two hundred objects to the Cernuschi Museum. A great collector, he had built up, among other things, a collection of Asian art devoted to Chinese Song ceramics (960-1279), Japanese ceramics from the Mingei movement and Chinese painting from the 20th century. Other acquisitions complete this important gift, such as the Shinhanga prints from the Paul Tavernier bequest or the series of paintings of the twelve months by Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918).
Chinese Song pottery is represented by celadon glazed stoneware with molded floral decoration, porcelain Qingbai "bluish-white" from northern China with incised decoration, sandstone with a black glaze enlivened by streaks or rust-colored streaks, sandstone with a white glaze and brown engobe or colored enamel decoration from the Cizhou group kilns in northern China. The painted decorations like the incised motifs, often floral or vegetal, are treated with mastery and great freedom.
The set of Chinese paintings is devoted to two genres, landscape and flowers and birds. The works were produced, for the most part, between 1900 and 1950. Bamboo by Wang Yachen (1893-1983), active during the Republican period, then emigrated to the United States, testify to the way in which he was able, while remaining steeped in the culture of the scholar, to modernize the classical vocabulary.
Xie Zhiguang (1900-1976) had an atypical career and his work has two facets: the genre of classical painting revisited by the masters of the Shanghai school, but also a large number of advertisements, illustrations for calendars and magazine covers, quite characteristic of Chinese urban culture between the wars. Other, younger artists also strive to renew both the landscape genre and that of flowers and birds. A generous use of washes and an expanded palette are some of the signs of this new age of ink painting.
Japanese ceramics from the Mingei movement (Mingei undo) founded by the philosopher, writer and collector Yanagi Sōetsu (1889-1961) gave a new impetus to Japanese craftsmanship at the beginning of the 20th century. The term Mingei (from minshu, “people”, and kogei, “craftsmanship”), forged by Yanagi and the potters Kawai Kanjiro (1890-1966) and Hamada Shoji (1894-1978), is at the origin of this movement which honored the beauty of modest and solid everyday objects. Hamada Shōji (1894-1978) and his student Shimaoka Tatsuzō (1919-2007) are among the major representatives of the movement and were elevated to the rank of "Living National Treasure". The powerful style of Hamada is noticeable in a bottle of geometric shape with decoration applied using a large brush. He thus creates everyday objects of simple and natural elegance, cultivating the irregular and the imperfect. Shimoaka, meanwhile, seeks more finesse and grace from his master's legacy.
In dialogue with the ceramics of the Preston bequest, the museum offers Japanese paintings and prints from the end of the 19th s. and the beginning of 20th s. The twelve months series by Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918) is characteristic of the Nihonga movement (Japanese painting). Devoted to the landscape over the seasons, it is an emblematic example of the talent of this artist, in particular his keen sense of observation, his sensitivity and his technical mastery.
The Shinhanga (new print) movement is one of the two major trends in the revival of the art of Japanese printmaking. Ohara Koson (1877-1945) is one of the designers of kacho-e (images of flowers and birds) the most prolific of the 20th century. Her Egret in the rain is one of his most accomplished images, the white bird stands out against a deep black background and the feathers are rendered using the embossing process (karazuri). Watanabe Seitei also produced prints that remain faithful to the precise and meticulous style of this artist.
To conclude this exhibition, Air (Gen Bin) by Kugimachi Akira (born in 1968) takes up the theme of the landscape in a very contemporary, almost abstract style. The artist drew this landscape of snow-covered rocky cliffs on a layer of Indian ink using mineral pigments and, in particular, gofun obtained by crushing oyster shells.