Edo Avant-Garde

The Guardians of Edo Avant-Garde reveals the pivotal role Japanese artists of the Edo era (1603 – 1868) played in setting the stage for the “modern art” movement in the West. During the Edo era, while a pacified Japan isolated itself from the world, audacious Japanese artists innovated stylization, abstraction, minimalism, surrealism, geometric composition and the illusion of 3-D.

Artists

Kano Shigenobu (need dates)

Bamboo and Poppies

Seattle Art Museum

Kano Shigenobu demonstrates the way in which the Kano studio system provided compositional ideas, habits of representation that would endure throughout the Edo period. he transmits the kind of bravura the large-scale painting style of Kano painting during the early Momoyama period when they are starting to ornament the pictorial program of castles, and large-scale buildings. Shigenobu’s wonderful work in the Seattle Art Museum demonstrates the scale and dynamism of design of this era. The asymmetry the abundant use of unpainted space that just also the materiality of the metallic gold foil surface to kind of have an effect on the viewer the counterintuitive pairing of two different plant forms on the surface all of these things are wonderful aspects of the screen that really reflect the dynamism of large scale painting in Japan right at the transition into the early modern period.


Waves at Matsushima

Freer Gallery of Art

Wind God, Thunder God   Freer Gallery of Art

Wind God, Thunder God

Freer Gallery of Art

Dragons and Clouds   Freer Gallery of Art

Dragons and Clouds

Freer Gallery of Art

Bull Scrolls   Kyoto National Museum

Bull Scrolls

Kyoto National Museum

Dragons and Clouds   Freer Gallery of Art

Dragons and Clouds

Freer Gallery of Art

Scattered Fans   Freer Gallery of Art

Scattered Fans

Freer Gallery of Art

Tawarya Sotatsu is in many ways a mystery we know very little about his life. All we know is that he was the head of a painting shop or eya in Kyoto in the early 17th century. He initially painted primarily for urban commoners and the merchant class. But he was such a popular painter his dynamism of composition, his design acumen his use of abstract forms and materials was so remarkable that he came to the attention of the imperial court and by the end of his life he was an imperial painter who by the end of his life produced some of the most memorable screens that we have from the Edo period.

Tawaraya Sotatsu and Hon’ami Koetsu (1558 - 1637)

Deer Scroll  Seattle Art Museum

Deer Scroll Seattle Art Museum

Anthology with Crane Design  Kyoto National Museum

Anthology with Crane Design Kyoto National Museum

Poem Card  Cleveland Museum of Art

Poem Card Cleveland Museum of Art

one of the most important bodies of work left by Sotatsu involve a group of scrolls he collaborated… with the calligrapher Hon’ami Koetsu. Koetsu at the time was one of the most dynamic cultural figures of the period involved in many different art forms and an accomplished calligrapher. Sotatsu developed his painting style to some extent in concert with this dynamic calligraphy. He developed… patterns of picture making which dynamically led the eye leftward as these scrolls unfurled and followed Koetsu’s calligraphy often of poetic excerpts from the Japanese tradition. And these underdrawings were in gold and silver pigment. They tended to repeat single motifs but placed them in such dynamic ways and promulgate their forward movement with such innovation that they became the kind of perfect artistic compliments to Koetsu’s calligraphy.

A wonderful example of this is the Deer Scroll in the Seattle Art Museum. There is a prominent… excerpt from the scroll there in which you see the single motif of the deer repeated in free hand form in gold and silver paint… traversing the surface. Being cropped in areas, gathering together craning their necks upwards in all kinds of dynamic variation. it’s as if the form themselves are somehow calligraphic and imbued with the kind of personhood or characterology that we associate with East Asian calligraphy. It is truly a remarkable work.

Ogata Korin (1658 - 1716)

Red and White Plums National Treasure

Red and White Plums National Treasure

Landscape  Seattle Art Museum

Landscape Seattle Art Museum

Ogata Korin is a painter associated with Kyoto’s urban commoner class. He was the scion of a famous draper shop which serviced the Kyoto elite with kimono robes. After Korin’s father dies, Korin and his brother, Kenzan, inherit a small fortune but Korin the dandy, the profligate son that he is, squanders that fortune away and soon he has to make a living, and eventually things become so dire that he has to take up painting. He doesn’t go through a long apprenticeship in a professional studio at least we don’t believe he does. What he ends up doing is transposing the artistic and design ideas from other media in Japan into the surface of painting so that they become somewhere between pattern and picture. What Korin demonstrates through the dynamism of what results is that Japanese painting can be a very intermedia art form in which ideas from other media other surfaces textiles lacquer wear and so forth are informing and enriching the painting traditions themselves.

in Red and White Plums you have a classic example of Korin’s design genius at work There is so much that is wonderfully visual and yet departs from tradition in that work.He has an extremely stylized body of water situated in the middle of the composition which possibly emerges from textile patterns it’s very textilic in its compositional logic and in fact later on Korin will be associated with many textile pattern books in which you would see similarly stylized flowing water but it is as if… the warp and the weft of loom is stretching sideways to create this wonderful lateral stylized movement. But here it’s transposed into the formal vocabulary of painting and using wonderfully metallic pigments, polychrome pigments to create essentially a pictorial design in painting.

Maruyama Okyo (1733 - 1795)

Cranes   Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Cranes

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Heron  Cleveland Museum of Art

Heron

Cleveland Museum of Art

Rooster   Shoeido Gallery

Rooster

Shoeido Gallery

Maruyama Okyo was the most popular painter of the late 18th century, he made paintings more accessible for an expanding pictorial culture of the period at the time many more Japanese were commissioning and owning works. Okyo is closely associated with the concept of realism, you might say, shasei, painting directly from nature. Now that is an old concept, and one of the interesting things about Okyo’s relationship to shasei is that he is was very interested in studying classical Chinese painters of the academy who practiced a kind of magic realism, where they attempted to replicate the surface forms of a motif with such exactitude that they end up also conveying a kind of inner life as well. That’s one of the goals of shasei. But he isn’t… straightforwardly depicting works according to some kind of memetic illusionism in his final paintings. He is still maintaining the wonderful decorative quality but selectively incorporating aspects of this new tendency into this work and that’s where the genius of Okyo lies is he knows in what balance to introduce the new and combine it with the old in his works

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754 - 1799)

Nachi Waterfall   Asian Art Museum

Nachi Waterfall

Asian Art Museum

Elephant Children   Minneapolis Institute of Art

Elephant Children

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Moon and Pine Trees   Leighton Longhi Collection

Moon and Pine Trees

Leighton Longhi Collection

Puppies   Shoeido Gallery

Puppies

Shoeido Gallery

Nagasawa Rosetsu is a a virtuosic painter who follows in the footsteps of Okyo but really expands upon Okyo’s masterful innovations and experimentation in the selective use of new kinds of pictorialsim especially in ink painting techniques. Rosetsu among other things is a masterful ink painter who uses linear and planer effects, the magic of water solubility in ink to evoke new effects in painting.

Soga Shohaku (1730 - 1800)

Horses and Cranes   Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Horses and Cranes

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Lions at the Stone Bridge of Mount Tiantai   Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lions at the Stone Bridge of Mount Tiantai

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Soga Shohaku is has left many remarkable works that are so personalized that they are immediately recognizable as by him... We know that he was born in Kyoto but loses his parents very early and he relocates and appears to spend some time apprenticing to painters… in the Omi region. In the provinces, he seems to have developed quite a remarkable following and you might say that he is made in the periphery and moves back later to Kyoto to establish his own studio and to continue to expand upon his repertoire. Well Shohaku is active when artists who are unaffiliated with traditional lineages and studios are emerging in Japan. This is an important moment, when painters such as Ito Jakuchu and Soga Shohaku emerge who we would alter call individualists, they are unbeholden to the painting models that are passed on within traditional Japanese studios. So, there is more freedom to innovate.

Ito Jakuchu (1716 - 1800)

Rooster and Family   Minneapolis Institute of Art

Rooster and Family

Minneapolis Institute of Art

White Plum Blossoms and Moon   Metropolitan Museum of Art

White Plum Blossoms and Moon

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ito Jakuchu emerges during the mid-18th century as part of a group of painters who are unbeholden to any artistic school or lineage. He is a green grocer which in his case means that he owns land in one of the most important vegetable markets and lends them out to farmers. He’s very much a part of the urban commoner culture of Kyoto. He is also a devout Zen practitioner and he develops a style of painting which seems to be closely associated with his Zen practice and ferocious habit of observing nature and trying to capture its inner vitality. He retires from his family business at age 40 and devotes himself to painting. He is not painting for commission or profit but he is painting as a kind of passionate and religious pursuit you might say and in the process, he makes some of the most unforgettable polychrome bird and flower paintings ever witnessed in East Asian history.

Sakai Hoitsu (1761 - 1828)

Paulownias and Chrysanthemums   Cleveland Museum of Art

Paulownias and Chrysanthemums

Cleveland Museum of Art

Sakai Hoitsu is a member of the warrior status group who is born in Edo and becomes a highly accomplished painter. He cycles through a number of different painting styles. before he discovers the work of Ogata Korin and becomes closely affiliated with Korin’s artistic style. In fact, you might say that Hoitsu to some extent was the inventor of Rinpa, which literally means “school of Korin” because he turns Korin into a real painting school, into a real painting lineage. Hoitsu brings to Korin’s style the sensibility of a Haiku poet. Hoitsu was a very accomplished haiku poet and haiku involved very fine tuned observation of daily life in the world around one. So he embeds the sensibility of the moment, the emotional tenor of the seasonal and climactic conditions of a certain environment into his painting and really, in that way innovates upon Korin’s Rinpa style.

Ishida Yutei (1721 - 1786)

Cranes   Minneapolis Institute of Art

Cranes

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Ishida Yutei is an interesting figure. He is technically speaking a Kano painter. He is trained in a Kano lineage associated with Tanyu but he is based in Kyoto. There, Ishida Yutei develops a decorative style of Kano painting which would later inform the work of his most famous disciple Maruyama Okyo. The Crane screens are a signature subject of Yutei. They are on gold ground but there is a remarkable alloverness to his distribution of the cranes on this ground. They have a certain quiet dignity to them. There is a lot of commotion they’re in very different poses, different states of activity they are interacting with each other and the space around them in different ways… They reward a close looking and really establish a balance between traditional and you might say… naturalistic painting that will become a hallmark of Okyo’s work.

Mori Sosen (1747 - 1821)

Monkeys   Asian Art Museum

Monkeys

Asian Art Museum

Silkies   Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silkies

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mori Sosen emerges in the wake of Okyo’s popularity in the Kyoto or Kansai region. You might say Sosen strategically turns himself into a monkey painter. What he is really masterful at is the virtuosic rendering of fur, of animal pelts. that Sosen follows this tradition but masters it to an unrivaled extent. He becomes so closely associated with monkey painting that he actually changes a character of his name on his 60th birthday to mean “monkey” instead of “ancestor”. He is literally the monkey painter in Japan. Sosen is associated with the Maruyama or the Maruyama Shijo School. What he does is imbue a sense of wonderful personality into his monkeys.

Shibata Zeshin (1807 - 1891)

Landscape   Oni Zazen Collection

Landscape

Oni Zazen Collection

Shibata Zeshin is an interesting case of a figure who was both a painter and a lacquer maker during the transition from the Edo period to the Meiji period in Japan. He is trained in Maruyama Shijo School but eventually becomes also a very accomplished lacquer maker. One of the interesting things about Zeshin is that he becomes very popular abroad. He is one of the most well-known Japanese artists ranking alongside Hokusai, Hiroshige, and others in France

Sesson Shukei (1504 - 1589)

Dragon & Tiger   Cleveland Museum of Art

Dragon & Tiger

Cleveland Museum of Art

Sesson Shukei is a remarkably interesting Zen monk painter. We know very little about him, we don’t know even the life dates he wandered across North Eastern Japan during the 16th century, during an era in which the entire country was plunged into war. He moved from the patronage of one warlord to another. Interestingly, he never made it to Kyoto which was the artistic center of Japan at the time. But by virtue of his having never been to Kyoto he developed a very quirky and personalized vocabulary of ink painting, which makes him one of the most interesting painters of the period.Dragon and Tiger is one of the great Japanese screens in an American collection. It pits two zoological representations of cosmological forces against each other. The ink work out of which the dragon emerges is remarkable, but Sesson when you look at the dragon screen embeds a human face on the dragon, both humorous and somehow mythological at the same time.

Studio of Tawaraya Sotatsu (I’nen Seal)

Boats on the Sea   Minneapolis Institute of Art

Boats on the Sea

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Trees   Freer Art Gallery

Trees

Freer Art Gallery

Trees   Freer Art Gallery

Trees

Freer Art Gallery

Unsigned

Crows   Seattle Art Museum

Crows

Seattle Art Museum

Cockscombs   MOA Museum of Art

Cockscombs

MOA Museum of Art

Barley Field   Minneapolis Institute of Art

Barley Field

Minneapolis Institute of Art

The Gutai Collective

Shiraga Kazuo Torimono

Shiraga Kazuo Torimono

Motonaga Sadamasa Sakuhin Funny Color II

Motonaga Sadamasa Sakuhin Funny Color II