"The Nature of Poetry: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection"
“The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection” at New York's Metropolitan Museum presents more than 40 traditional Japanese paintings from the collection of Estelle Bender and T. Richard Fishbein. These works are supported by ceramics and other pieces from the Met's own collection.
The works from the Fishbein-Bender Collection represent important artists and every major school and artistic movement of the Edo period. This period extended from 1615-1868, during which the shogunate ruled Japan via a military government headquartered in Edo, present day Tokyo.
There was great admiration for Chinese culture and education was grounded in Confucian classics and Chinese poetry at this time. Not surprisingly, Japanese artists were also influenced by Chinese painting. This gave rise to the Kano school, which emphasized monochrome paintings and delicate brush work based upon the Chinese style. In addition, the desire to follow the example of Chinese intellectuals led to Literati painting, which was done not with the objective of producing works for sale but on an amateur basis. This approach started with warrior intellectuals but spread to merchants and wealthy farmers.
At the same time, other artists continued to develop traditional Japanese painting. During the Edo period, artists associated with Ringpa were inspired by Japanese landscapes and literature. Later, the Ukiyo-e school used these themes but added a hedonistic urban element.
The art work exhibited here was often inspired by poetry, particularly poetry about nature. Thus, most of the subjects are landscapes and/or animals. There are only a few paintings with people. Often the scenes. plants and animals have symbolic meaning in Japanese poetry.
As in a poem, the artists concentrated on the essentials. Thus, the landscapes or animals can be quite detailed while the backgrounds are either a solid field of gold or the bare fabric of the ground on whicht the picture is painted. As such, the paintings stand between realisim and abstraction.
For the most part, the colors are muted in these paintings. However, occasionally there is a blast of red, which immediately draws the eye. As mentioned earlier, some artists use flat fields of gold for the background. This contrasts with the primarily black drawings giving the compositions vibrancy.
Most of the artists were men. However, included in the exhibition is a work by Kiyohara Yukinobu. She was a keishu – a woman highly accomplished in the arts. Considering the difficulties that women artists have traditionally faced and still face, her achievement of such a status in 17th century Japan is remarkable.
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Above: Six Panel Screens by Sakai Hoitsu.
Below: "Cranes" by Nagaswa Roesstsu.
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