Treasures of Kyoto, three centuries of Rinpa creation

Wednesday 28 November 2018: Treasures of Kyoto, three centuries of Rinpa creation, visit-conference of the exhibition at the Cernuschi Museum by Manuela Moscatiello, Head of Japanese Collections at the Cernuschi Museum.

This is the first time an exhibition is devoted to the current Rinpa in France and the Cernuschi museum presents more particularly the active artists in Kyoto. We talk about the current and not the school, because this artistic movement, representative of the decorative arts, was not transmitted from master to pupil but rather by affinity. The artists Rinpa were not professional painters with an official status, but refined people with a great culture because of privileged backgrounds. This current is inspired by the art of the Heian period (794-1185), considered the quintessence of Japanese sensitivity.

Tawaraya Sōtatsu. Pair of six-panel screens. The Ivy Trail. Calligraphic Poems by Karasumaru Mitsuhiro.
Ink and colors on a background of gold leaf on paper.
© Shokoku-ji

The artists Rinpa portrayed simple subjects drawn from nature, such as birds, plants and flowers, with a background often made of gold leaf. They decorate screens and movable partitions, but also ceramics and textiles. Their intention was to bring beauty into everyday life.
The appellation, dating from 19e s., comes from the name of an artist of the time of Edo, Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716) but the current was born when the calligrapher, ceramist and lacquerer Hon'ami Kōetsu (1558-1637) received the authorization shogunale to found a community of artists and craftsmen north-west of Kyoto in 1615.
One of the characteristics of artists Rinpa is that they use precious pigments (malachite for green, azurite for blue, cinnabar for red, gold and silver). These pigments reduced to a very fine powder were applied on a support coated with a mixture (Dosa) of water, alum and animal glue.

Kōetsu was an eclectic artist and considered one of the greatest calligrapher of the Kan'ei era (1626-1644).
His collaboration with the painter Tawaraya Sōtatsu (active between 1600 and 1640) is illustrated by fans or square cards (shikishi). The maps on display illustrate nature through the seasons. Sōtatsu illustrated the poems (waka) calligraphy by Kōetsu in a perfect dialogue between the two artistic expressions. Sōtatsu is one of the most enigmatic artists of the period because his life is very little documented; we do not know his date of birth or that of his death, whereas he appears as an exceptional painter among his contemporaries. His screens (three of which are exposed successively) are remarkable for their often asymmetrical and dynamic composition. For the pair that illustrates a poem (waka) calligraphy by Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (1579-1638) The Ivy Trail, Sōtatsu creates a path, winding from right to left diagonally between the flat malachite green and the gold background, where the ivy leaves seem to be reflected, while at the right end of the screen on the right, the ivy stems descending from the top echo those painted on the way to the left end of the left screen. The ivy leaves are painted without outline, "bone-free" of the Chinese tradition, which allows to obtain a very naturalistic rendering.
A tea bowl (said Murakumo) of Kōetsu was cooked in the ovens of the Raku family and evokes clouds gathering in the sky.
The second part of the exhibition addresses the second generation of artists Rinpa with brothers Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716) and Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743).
Kenzan is more famous for its ceramics and tea bowls, raviers or dishes are always decorated with plant motifs painted with iron oxide, cobalt oxide (gosu), copper, etc. The polychrome decorations painted under cover required a perfect control of the cooking mode. Nature is also evoked over the seasons. Two dishes make up a pair: one decorated with cherry blossoms (spring), the other with bluebells (autumn).
The flow Rinpa wanting to put beauty into everyday life, Kōrin painted Kōrin's papers to wrap incense sticks. A willow unfolds its fluid form on a background dotted with gold. The trunk painted without outline, shows the remarkable work of the artist who makes the natural effect of lichens by superimposing the ink and pigments saturated with water (tarashikomi) to obtain verdigris shades. It should be noted that the paper is lined with a very fine silk.

Ogata Kōrin. Paper to wrap incense with weeping willow decor. Colors on a background of gold leaf on paper covered with silk. © Hosomi Museum.Ogata Kenzan. Ravier decorated with poppies. Sandstone covered with white slip with underglaze glazes. Private collection.

A pair of screens, attributed to Kōrin depicts two famous places of Japan: the Mount Fuji et waves in Matsushima. While the Mount Fuji gives an impression of stability and calm, waves in Matsushima shows a raging sea against rocks painted bright colors (red, green and blue). We can say that Kōrin gave a second impetus to aesthetics Rinpa. Inspired by the themes and processes of Kōetsu and Sōtatsu, he brought personal innovation through his clean compositions, bold layouts, and intense chromatic scale.
A hand warmer, a small brazier that was used to warm up in the winter, was decorated by Fukae Roshū (1699-1757) in the Kōrin style of which he had been a student. Entirely covered in golden pigment, malachite green pines and silver stylized cranes punctuate all faces. From the same artist, a six-panel screen unfolds the theme of the four seasons. If the lower part is occupied by ferns, horsetails, white azaleas, campanulas, etc., an azalea stem crosses diagonally three panels and its red flowers respond to white chrysanthemums occupying the fourth and fifth panels. It should be noted that the plants are not arranged in the order of the seasons. One of the characteristics of art Rinpa is to paint the veins of the leaves and the pistils of the flowers using golden pigments.

Ogata Kōrin. Pair of six-panel screens. Waves in Matsushima et Mount Fuji. Ink and colors on a background of gold leaf on paper. Private collection. © Tomoaki Sukezane.

Watanabe Shikō (1683-1755) who may have studied with Kōrin is an eclectic artist who draws inspiration from the mainstream Rinpa only in the school Kanō. A vertical roll, Autumn moon behind a blind, shows the moon partly hidden by a bamboo blind and some autumn plants. The set exudes great poetry and the treatment is of great delicacy.
Nakamura Hōchū (? -1819) considered himself a disciple of Kōrin and he published theAlbum of Kōrin paintings painted in a very free style. A pair of screens where twelve fans were glued is very representative of the art of this artist. Topics range from pine to maple to wisteria, cherry, Japanese radish, bamboo, willow, etc. The execution and layout on the fans is very free and Hōchū makes extensive use of the effects of tarashikomi, emblematic of the current Rinpa after Sōtatsu. His signature, calligraphed in thick characters, found on each fan, is characteristic of his flexible style.
The journey ends with an artist from 20e s., Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942). Multi-faceted artist (ceramics, lacquers, textiles), he revived the sensitivity Rinpa while modernizing and adapting it to contemporary taste. He contributed to the promotion of applied arts in Japan. His themes are often drawn from nature but also from poetry and classical literature. Four vertical rollers Flowers and plants of the four seasons, are in the purest style Rinpa, using the traditional technique of tarashikomi for naturalistic rendering and golden pigment for leaf veins. He made albums of motifs for textiles with the same subject: The road to the sea collects 97 drawings related to the sea and waves, while Myriads of butterflies is dedicated to butterflies in all their forms and colors. After his trip to Europe, he successfully tried to promote a decidedly Japanese art in his themes but modernized. Sekka, an admirer of Kōetsu dreamed of creating a village of artists and craftsmen as his predecessor had done. He collaborated with many artisans and three small porcelain bowls, with undulating shapes, are decorated with wave stylized in the dynamics of Kōrin. The bowl decorated with a chrysanthemum whose flower is openwork and the veins of the leaves painted with golden pigments is totally in the spirit Rinpa. He worked with his brother Kamisaka Yūkichi (1888-1938) who was a lacquer artist. Sekka's preparatory drawing for Yukichi's small deer-decorated cabinet has been preserved.
Finally, a pair of screens, executed between 1920 and 1925, takes up the theme Rinpa, Flowers and plants of the four seasonsbut it begins with the summer on the right, then the spring. Sekka placed the plants on the right side of the screen at the bottom of the screen, which hides their base. Conversely, the plants of the left screen are depicted from their feet while the upper part is invisible. The set creates an original composition and very rhythmic.

Kamisaka Sekka. Pair of six-panel screens. Flowers and plants of the four seasons. Ink, colors and gold on silk. © Hosomi Museum.

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