2011 / Bowers Museum / Masterpieces of the Price Collection

Left panel of Bull and Elephant, Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) Edo period, 18th century. Pair of six-panel folding screens, ink on paper. Each 155 x 359 cm. Estuko and Joe Price Collection. (Courtesy of the Bowers Museum)

Left panel of Bull and Elephant, Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) Edo period, 18th century. Pair of six-panel folding screens, ink on paper. Each 155 x 359 cm. Estuko and Joe Price Collection. (Courtesy of the Bowers Museum)

Cultural News 2011 June Issue

Bowers Museum

Masterpieces of the Price Collection

June 18 – July 10, 2011


A Rare Glimpse of Japanese Master Painting

By Meher McArthur, Asian Art Curator, Author and Educator

The outstanding Japanese paintings from the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection achieved great success as a traveling exhibition in 2006-7, attracting over one million viewers.

From June 18, the Bowers Museum exhibition Masterpieces of the Price Collection will present some of the very best screen and scroll painters of Edo-period Japan (1603-1868).

During the Edo period, the great Japanese urban centers of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto experienced a cultural efflorescence that profoundly impacted art and aesthetics.

The great artists of the various different schools of this period were rigorously trained and disciplined, reaching new levels of skill and tackling a wider range of subject matter – from landscapes and courtly scenes to details of nature and scenes of urban life.

In addition, many artists broke away from the traditional schools and experimented with new painting techniques, styles and subject matter, creating fresh, new art for a broadening urban audience.

The scenes of both the serene and ferocious aspects of nature by Sakai Hoitsu, Nagasawa Rosetsu, Maruyama Okyo and Mori Sosen, and depictions of elegant courtesans in flowing robes by Kitagawa Kikumaro and Isoda Koryusai exemplify the exuberance and expression of Edo-period painting.

One of the highlights of this exhibition is a series of hanging scrolls entitled Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months by Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828), a samurai artist, famous for his stylized, lyrical depictions of traditional Japanese motifs.

The Japanese have long expressed their sensitivity to the changing seasons in poetry and art. By the Edo period, a rich visual vocabulary already existed relating to the Four Seasons and the Twelve Months, with well known native flowers being used to represent each season and month, and to evoke emotional responses sometimes connected to a famous moment in history or legend.

In Hoitsu’s exquisite series, each image is a visual poem, a short classical waka verse, in which simplified details and vivid colors express the essence of each flower and bird in perfectly balanced asymmetrical compositions.

Visual drama and humor come together in a remarkable pair of folding screens painted in ink on paper by Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-99), an eccentric artist best known for his lavish and meticulous depictions of birds, flowers, figures and animals, and Chinese-style landscapes.

On one screen is a large white elephant, and on the other a black bull, both of which almost seem to be bursting out of the frame of the painting. Rosetsu contrasts black and white and small and large, pairing two small black crows with the massive white elephant and a tiny white puppy with the robust black bull, possibly making a playful reference to the concept of yin and yang, the harmony of opposites.

The exhibition also features several paintings depicting the people of Edo-period Japan. With the growth in the wealth and literacy of the townspeople, these people themselves were both the patrons and the subjects of paintings.

Many of the major artists from the late 17th to 19th centuries painted images of kabuki actors, courtesans, teahouse waitresses and other beauties of the Pleasure Quarters or “floating world” for wealthy merchants and other townspeople who had enjoyed their company or were hoping one day to do so.

Using styles and techniques that hark back to classical Japanese Court painting – such as sparse facial details and the elaborate design and colors of the kimono – artists created a whole new genre of painting in response to the popularity of the beauties of this world.

Unlike the classical paintings, which depicted the beauties of the Imperial Court, these images were of women of questionable virtue. In this painting, Two Courtesans by Kitagawa Kikumaro (d. ca.1830), a glamorous courtesan and her attendant parade through the Pleasure Quarters to attract clients.

Masterpieces of the Price Collection opens at the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana on June 18 and runs through July 10, 2011. www.bowers.org

Opening Lecture by Meher McArthur will be held on Saturday, June 18, at 1:30 pm. Admission: member $7, non-member $10.

The Bowers Museum is located at 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706. Museum hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm. General admission: $12. Seniors (age 62 or older): $9. Target Free First Sundays: Visitors to the Bowers can enjoy free access to the museum on the first Sunday of every month, thanks to the Target Corporation. Limited to 250 tickets per hour and 1500 tickets per day for specially ticketed exhibits.