Triumphs of compositional daring and sumptuousness, the paintings and applied arts of the Rimpa (Rinpa) tradition are defining Japanese contributions to world art. It was with an overview of this classical style that Japan Society Gallery first opened its doors in 1971, and it returned to the same theme a decade later, this time featuring, as a kind of coda, six works by Sakai Hoitsu (1761–1828).
Now Japan Society Gallery is to present the first U.S. retrospective of Hoitsu, a samurai aristocrat who became a Buddhist monk and dedicated himself to painting and reviving the style of an earlier artist, Ogata Korin (1658–1716). Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hoitsu (1761–1828) opens September 29, 2012 and will remain on view until January 6, 2013.
The exhibition gathers together fifty-eight paintings on folding screens, hanging scrolls, and fans, as well as lacquer and printed books from private and public collections. Foremost among the paintings are Hoitsu's Waves (1815), a magnificent pair of six-panel screens sheathed in silver leaf, and Korin's Rough Waves (1705), its inspiration. The pair will be shown together during the first six weeks of the exhibition period, through November 4. The Seikado Bunko Art Museum in Tokyo has never before allowed the Hoitsu screens to travel to the U.S.; the Korin screen is a rare loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of five works the Museum is lending to Silver Wind.
"This exhibition could not have happened before," says Joe Earle, outgoing Director of Japan Society Gallery. "Thanks in no small part to the scholarship and insights of Matthew P. McKelway, we now have a much better idea of Hoitsu's contributions and those of his most accomplished student, Suzuki Kiitsu." McKelway, Takeo and Itsuko Atsumi Associate Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University, is curator of Silver Wind and principal author of the accompanying catalogue. "For years to come, this Japan Society publication is likely to be the authoritative account of Hoitsu's life, art, and influence," concludes Earle.
"Almost despite his reverence for the past, Hoitsu created something new," says McKelway. "This was a highly cultivated artist who spoke the same language as his urbane audience. If Hoitsu painted a certain morning glory, the fashionable would recognize that variety as the newest craze; if Hoitsu parted the petals of a white lotus in a certain way, the educated would catch the allusion to a much admired poem."
Hoitsu came in the 'autumn' of the Rimpa movement, which began in the early 1600s as a revival of the classical courtly tradition and continued for three hundred years, with four peaks of activity approximately a century apart. This exhibition focuses on 70 years, between 1788 and 1858, beginning with Hoitsu's artistic practice as a youth and ending with the further development of his style by Kiitsu.
Although the earliest works on view-Bijinga, or portraits of beautiful women-reflect the influence of contemporary ukiyo-e artists who were mainly from The Commoner class, by the time he was 54 years of age Hoitsu had already devoted many years to methodically researching and reviving the work of Korin. In 1815, the centennial of Korin's death served as the impetus for Hoitsu to reinterpret Rough Waves and to synthesize his research into an exhibition and catalogue of Korin's paintings. (Rimpa means, literally, "the school of Korin.")
Hoitsu had also begun to perfect a style that called for the kind of sumptuous materials seen in one of the highlights of the exhibition, a rare pair of large-scale six-panel screens entitled Maples and Cherry Trees (after 1817) that will be on view from November 6. Here, the artist enhanced the natural appearance of the painting's elements with an opulence that would later become characteristic of his work: a generous use of gold and pigments of the very best quality, including, in this case, malachite green that was allowed to run in wet areas of ink to suggest a fine film of moss growing on a tree's boughs.