In an unprecedented display outside of Japan, the National Gallery of Art is presenting 30 scrolls of paintings by Ito Jakuchu next Spring.
“Colorful Realm of Living Beings,” an historic collection of scrolls depicting birds and flowers on silk, will be shown at the gallery from March 20 through April 27, the gallery announced late Thursday. Considered a cultural treasure in Japan and never shown in its entirely outside of Japan, the paintings will be part of a larger exhibition devoted to the work of Jakuchu. The scrolls are a rare loan from the Imperial Household.
The agreement to show the delicate scrolls coincides with the centennial of the gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington from Japan and the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
The scrolls are considered the greatest work of bird and flower painting in Japan’s history and offer insights into the Japanese culture of nature and art.
The show evolved from a conversation with the Ambassador of Japan Ichiro Fujisaki, said Earl A. Powell III, the National Gallery director. “We talked about the 100th anniversary, the Imperial Collection and what related to horiculture. And we thought this would be an interesting pairing. ‘Color Realm’ will be an utterly unique presentation. They are very sporadically displayed in Japan.”
The works are in excellent condition, said guest curator Yukio Lippit, because few people have owned them. In 1765 the artist gave them to the Shokokuji Monastery in Kyoto and then they were given to the Imperial Household in 1889.
“They are in very good condition and they really show off to maximum effect the technical complexity in the genre of bird and flowers painting,” said Lippit.
The work will be shown with Jakuchu’s “Sakyamuni Triptych,” which explores Buddhist thought. “The display at the National Gallery will try to evoke the original viewing conditions, both as highly visual bird and flower paintings but at the same time Buddhist paintings within the religious context,” said Lippit.
The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was also involved with the gallery through collaboration and connections with experts in the field. At the same time, next Spring, the Sackler is is presenting its own show of Japanese artists.
“This is a real trifecta, some planned, some serendipitous,” said James Ulah, the Sackler’s senior curator of Japanese art. “These are three exhibits, featuring three distinct artists. Each artist is reflective of the amazing changes going on in Japan at the time. The individual artist was breaking away from the workshop.”
“Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples,” selections from Kano Kazunobu’s 100-painting series , will be on view at the Sackler from March 10 through July 8. The series that imagines Buddha’s disciples has never been displayed outside Japan.
“The 500 men are depicted in some unflattering ways because appearances were not important in the search for enlightment,” said Ulah. “They were looked at as people who involved themselves in the everyday world. There is a scene of an earthquake and they are rescuers.”
Then “Hokusai: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” by the famed Katushika Holusai, will open March 24. The exhibition will feature all 46 of Holusai’s images. This show will close June 17.
“I don’t think any one of them has ever been outside Japan,” said Ulah.