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"Consonance and Resonance: Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Japanese Painting in Edo-Period Styles"
2004-01-15 until 2004-06-15
New Orleans Museum of Art
New Orleans, LA, USA United States of America

The end of the Edo period (1615-1868) marked a new era in Japan—politically, socially economically, and to a large degree, artistically. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan began the process of rapid assimilation of Western culture and technology. The old, feudal structures of Edo-period society were dismantled as the new government embarked on a plan of complete reorganization and modernization.

In the arts this trend toward modernization had wide-ranging effects, including the establishment of Western-style museums and art academies that trained students in European techniques of drawing, painting and sculpture. During the Meiji period, the fashion for Western-style art, or styles based in large part on incorporating elements of Western art, had the effect of marginalizing the styles and schools of painting that had flourished during the Edo period.

Despite those who questioned the validity and applicability of Edo-period painting styles in this era of Western-style modernization, many artists continued to work within these traditional parameters. As might be expected, older artists who received their training an established their personal styles during the Edo period naturally continued to paint in the milieu in which they established their careers. However, a number of younger artists, some born well into the Meiji era, also chose to adopt these Edo-based styles. Consonance and Resonance, a new installation in the Museum’s Asian Gallery curated by NOMA’s Curator of Asian Art Lisa Rotondo McCord, features 25 paintings from the late-19th and early-20th centuries created by artists who chose to work within styles that either originated in, or flourished during, the Edo period. The paintings on view are drawn from the permanent collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Nanga, the literati-Chinese inspired style of painting that had flourished in Japan since the 18th century, continued to be practiced during the Meiji and Taisho eras. Unlike a number of other painting styles, nanga remained relatively immune from criticism, finding patrons and audiences among even the pro-Western elites, many of whom had received a Chinese-style education. Taki Katei (1830-1901), whose four-panel screen Plum Blossoms is in the exhibition, was among the most popular of nanga artists during the late-19th century.

In this screen ,which originally functioned as a set of sliding door panels (the inset door handles have been removed an d covered with paper ovals) Katei depicts a variation on a traditional literati subject: plum, bamboo and rock. This triumvirate, with the plum blossoms representing early spring, and the bamboo and rock resilience, are a variation on the symbolic grouping, three friends of winter (pine, plum and bamboo). In both China and Japan, the plum blossom, the first bloom of the spring, was associated with the concept of rebirth; the three friends were more generally associated with the concepts of resilience and longevity. In the past, these attributes were closely associated with the scholar, who, it was hoped, would produce as beautiful and subtle a product as the delicate blossom emerging from the ancient tree. While such scholarly associations might at first seem irrelevant in an era of dramatic Westernization, contemporary viewers most likely found this familiar symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation to be profoundly relevant at a time of tremendous change.

Another painting of plum blossoms by Watanabe Seitei (1851-1910) displays the continuation and transformation of the Maruyama-Shijo tradition in the early 20th century. Trained as a Maruyama-Shijo school artist, Seitei adhered to that tradition’s interest in a lyric naturalism and the practice of creating closely observed sketches from life. While remaining true to his roots, Seitei’s works often incorporated elements seen in Western watercolors which he had the opportunity to view during a visit to the Paris World’s Fair in 1878. This painting, part of a 12-scroll set of the months of the year, portrays the second month, when the plum often comes into bloom. Unlike Taki Katei who isolates his dramatic plum trees against a blank painting surface, Seitei has combined areas of wash with highly detailed brushwork to create a naturalistic scene of the coming spring. These two images illustrated here are but two of the works featured in Consonance and Resonance: Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Japanese Painting in Edo-Period Styles.

Watanabe Seitei (Japanese, 1851-1910),
The Twelve Months of the Year (February: Plum Blossoms),
Ink and color on silk,
Collection of New Orleans Museum of Art,
Museum Purchase: Women’s Volunteer Committee
Fund. 1981.8.2

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