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Birds & FlowersMasterworks of Kacho-e
18th thru 20th Century Prints
Birds & FlowersMasterworks of Kacho-e
18th thru 20th Century Prints
The Largest Collection of Japanese Prints in the U.S.Contemporary Asian Art
425 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10017
May 2014 2014 RONIN GALLERY All Rights Reserved
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ourished by the principles of Shinto and Buddhism, the most exquisite expressions of Japanese culture have been rooted in a profound love and respect for the natural world. The spe-
cific tradition of kacho-e, which is most simply the depiction of flora and fauna, has a long visual and literary history. Imbued with meta-phorical significance beyond their physical beauty, specific pairings of birds, insects, and flowers have formed the basis for a tradition that extends into the contemporary moment.
Birds & Flowers: Masterworks of Kacho-e showcases a rare collection of exquisite woodblock prints by such artists as Utamaro, Masayoshi, Hokusai, and Hiroshige, including prints from Utamaros famous The Book of Birds (1790) and The Book of Insects (1788). This exhibition features Hokusais acclaimed Peonies and Butterflies, from the masters large flower series, and numerous additional prints from Hiroshiges important studies of birds. Also included is a selec-tion of prints by Koson (Shoson), Japans early 20th-century master of kacho-e. Softly colored, and exquisitely rendered with an elegant arrangement of space, each of these prints celebrates nature as a combination of sensual delights and lyrical expressions of emotion.
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he 18th century, considered by many to be the golden age of ukiyo-e, was the flourishing moment of the prosperous and peaceful Edo period. Although Japanese woodblock printing
was still a relatively nascent art form at the turn of the 1700s, art-ists quickly discovered new techniques for improving the appeal of their works, including increasingly delicate and sinuous lines, and the ability to incorporate dozens of color in a single printing technique, known as brocade prints, or nishiki-e. The floating world of the ukiyo-e genre most often depicted scenes of travel, pleasure, and entertainment: beautiful women, Kabuki actors, and other ephemeral indulgences of the newly emergent middle class.
Many masters of the 18th century woodblock print also turned their talents to the long-standing poetic and artistic tradition of kacho-e, images of birds and flowers. Koryusai (1735-1790) and Utamaro (1753-1806), two of the most important artists of the period, re-nowned for their images of beautiful women (bijin) and courtesans, both produced substantial work on the theme of nature. Utamaro produced three full printed books on the theme of nature, The Book of Insects (Ehon mushi erabi, 1788), Gifts of the Ebb Tide (Shiohi no tsuto, 1789), and Myriad Birds (Momo chidori, 1790). These exquisite prints pair playful and romantic kyoka poetry with depictions of the natural world, often using embossing and mica to emphasize the naturalism and textural quality of the different animals and plants.
Kitao Masayoshis (1764-1824) series, Compendium of Pictures of Birds Imported from Overseas (Kaihaku raikin zui), demonstrates the increasingly intricate relationship between Japanese and Chinese art forms. Masayoshi was commissioned to interpret a pre-existing set of bird-and-flower handscroll paintings by a Chinese Nagasaki-school artist that documented a shipment of exotic Chinese birds in 1762. Masayoshis copy of these handscrolls, from around thirty years later, is faithful to the Chinese aesthetic and subject matter with its soft treatment of color, but at the same time, is undeniably the work of an accomplished Japanese woodblock artist.
Utamaro (1753 - 1806) Koryusai (fl 1764 - 1788)Masayoshi (1764 - 1824)
Nature Studies: 18th Century
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FebruaryKoryusai (fl. 1764 - 1788)
Koryusais kacho-e prints are recognized for their surprisingly classical and literary refinement. In his later years he was rewarded the title of hokkyo, an honorary name that was largely reserved for artists associated with the long-established and well-connected schools of painting. In this print, the gentle curve of a blooming cherry tree frames the regal form of a pair of strutting pheasants. Included in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Woodblock Printc. 1770 UnsignedChubanref. #: JP2235
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Long Tailed Tit and Japanese White EyesEhon Momo ChidoriUtamaro (1753 - 1806)
From The Bird Book, this charming print features two different species of small songbirds perched in the leaves of a bamboo plant. The little mejiro, or white-eyes, crowd together on the branch, such a common behavior for this species that the Japa-nese phrase, mejiro-oshi, means to jostle up against other peo-ple in a crowd. Also in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Woodblock Printc. 1790UnsignedObanref. #: JP5460
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Bullfinch and Scops OwlEhon Momo ChidoriUtamaro (1753 - 1806)
Two little bullfinches chirp excitedly, while the larger owl, his tufted head feathers pointed straight up, seems to be listening in earnest. The poem, in fact, alludes to the eared owl, punning on the Japa-nese word to listen. Included in the collections of the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. One of the two poems reads: I laugh/And cry/At the same time/Since you ignore me/Like an earless owl in the tree (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY).
Woodblock Printc. 1790UnsignedObanref. #: JP5459
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Hawk and ShrikeEhon Momo ChidoriUtamaro (1753 - 1806)
From his important collection of prints, The Bird Book (also known as Myriad Birds, or Momo Chidori), this individual print features a hawk and a shrike facing each other across the margins. Both accompanying poems reference the two birds predatory natures, the hawk with his swooping flight and the shrike with its little stab-bing beak. In the collections of the British Museum and the Mu-seum of Fine Arts Boston.
Woodblock Printc. 1790UnsignedObanref. #: R02273
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Cricket and FirefliesEhon Mushi ErabiUtamaro (1753 - 1806)
This image, with its accompanying poems, is rich with sensory allusion: from the soulful chirping of the cricket, to the soft, soothing lights of the fireflies on the riverbanks, to the sound of water gently lapping at a shore, or the feeling of soft, wet marsh grasses under ones feet. In the collections of the Rit-sumeikan University, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Woodblock Print1788UnsignedObanref. #: JP5525
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Mole Cricket and EarwigEhon Mushi ErabiUtamaro (1753 - 1806)
These two unusual insects are paired with a rose and a bamboo shoot. The rough texture and strange form of the bamboo shoot contrasts with the more objective beauty of the rose, as if speaking to the inherent beauty of all living creatures, whether strange to look at (like the earwig), or hardly ever seen at all (like the little mole cricket). This print is in the collections of Ritsumeikan University, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Woodblock Print1788UnsignedObanref. #: JP5527
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Butterfly and DragonflyEhon Mushi ErabiUtamaro (1753 - 1806)
A beautiful, delicate print, rich with poetic allusion and emotional resonance. The butterfly kissing the tip of the peony blossom, along with the poem, immediately recalls the dream of the philoso-pher Zhuangzi, while the dragonfly in the poem, like the dragonfly in the print, hovers uncertainly over the blooms, not sure whether it should commit to love, or to be free in the sky. Also included in the prestigious collections of the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Woodblock Print1788UnsignedObanref. #: JP5530
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QuailKaihaku Raikin ZuiMasayoshi (1764 - 1824)
Masayoshis quail here appears to have paused for a moment amongst the bamboo and blossoms, one little claw raised in a quintessential bird-like pose. In contrast to the graphic quality of the natural world surrounding him, Masayoshi pours detail upon detail into the depiction of the quails plumage, making it appear like a delicately patterned brocade. This print is in the collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Woodblock Print1790sKeisai shaObanref. #: JP5519
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Songbird and PeonyKaihaku Raikin ZuiMasayoshi (1764 - 1824)
This print of a small brown songbird flitting among the peony blooms incorporates a truly astounding level of detail. The re-fined, delicate shading in the petals of the peony blossom with incredibly fine veining makes the flower appear translucent in the sunlight, while the little birds body is tilted just so on the branch in order to show off the variety of marking and plumage texture. This print is from the earliest edition of the series, which was intended to be printed as a complete album, rather than individual sheets. Featured in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Woodblock Print1790sUnsignedObanref. #: JP5520
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The Gray ThrushKaihaku Raikin ZuiMasayoshi (1764 - 1824)