Colorful Realm of Living Beings

The year 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry blossom trees from the people of Japan to the people of the United States. Planted in Washington, D.C. in 1912, these cherry blossom trees have become a symbol of the warm relationship between Japan and the U.S. for the past century.

To celebrate this anniversary, the National Gallery of Art will exhibit one of Japan’s most renowned cultural treasures, the 30-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings by Itō Jakuchū. Titled Colorful Realm of Living Beings (J. Dōshoku sai-e; c. 1757–1766), these extraordinary scrolls are being lent to the National Gallery of Art by the Imperial Household. Their exhibition in Washington—for one month only—provides a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: not only is it the first time all 30 paintings will be on view in the United States, but it is also the first time any of the works will be seen here after their six-year-long restoration.

Itō Jakuchū
Peonies and Butterflies (J. Shakuyaku gunchō zu), c. 1757 (Hōreki 7)
ink and color on silk, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings (J. Dōshoku sai-e), set of 30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The Imperial Household Agency

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 scrolls are an example of the naturalism of Japanese design that would strongly influence the fine and decorative arts of Europe, Great Britain and the U.S. in the late 18th and 19th centuries. 

lto Jakuchu
30 hanging scrolls
Edo Period, dated about 1757~about 1766
color on silk 141.8~142.9×79.0~79.8This is a masterpiece of thirty hanging scrolls, painted to sublime the Shakamuni triad by Jakuchu passed down in Shokoku-ji Temple, Kyoto, and famous as Jakuchu’s representative work. Every depiction in these works showing his particularity in how to depict the sense of life of living beings such as plants, birds, insects, fishes and shells, fascinate those who admire them.

This is the first of several posts celebrating the centennial of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to our nation’s capital.

Related post:  The beginning of hanami season


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