This exhibition draws on the holdings of noted American collectors Robert and Betsy Feinberg, who have created one of the premiere private collections of Japanese painting from the Edo period (1615–1868) outside Japan. Displaying exemplary works from painting schools that arose in Japan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the exhibition allows viewers to discover how Japanese painting evolved from the traditional modes of Chinese and Japanese (Yamato-e) styles that had prevailed through medieval times. More than ninety paintings—including twelve sets of folding screens and a number of hanging scrolls—will be exhibited in two rotations, each consisting of approximately forty-five paintings. Rather than focus on the orthodox output of the Tosa and Kano ateliers, which dominated artistic production in the late medieval period, The Flowering of Edo Period Painting highlights the new, exuberant styles of the Rinpa, Nanga, Maruyama-Shijō, and Ukiyo-e schools, as well as independent painters of the Edo period.
With works of nearly every major Edo painter represented, the exhibition serves as an excellent introduction to Edo painting in its entirety. While examining the stylistic innovations, the paintings on view capture compelling scenes of nature, people at work and play, and scenes drawn from East Asian history, legend, and literature. Highlights include the hanging scroll Tiger, a tour-de-force of ink painting of the early 1630s by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, founder of the Rinpa school. They also include especially fine examples of the nineteenth-century Edo Rinpa–revival painters Sakai Hōitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu, respectively represented by a rare set of a dozen hanging scrolls of Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months and a graphically potent pair of two-panel folding screens of Cranes. Works by such eighteenth-century Kyoto masters as Ike no Taiga, Yosa Buson, Soga Shōhaku, Maruyama Ōkyo, and Nagasawa Rosetsu are a special strength of the collection. Ukiyo-e artists known best in the West for their woodblock prints are represented by meticulously detailed paintings thought to have been commissioned by wealthy clients. A pair of seventeenth-century folding screens showing a Portuguese trading ship and the antics of its sailors testifies to the fascination the Japanese had with the arrival of the first European traders on their shores toward the end of the sixteenth century.
Robert Feinberg was educated at Harvard College and Oxford University, where he earned a PhD in chemistry in 1965. For more than forty years, the Feinbergs have dedicated themselves to studying and collecting Japanese art. In his introduction to the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Dr. Feinberg recalls that he and his wife trace their interest in Japanese art back to a visit to the Metropolitan Museum in 1972 when, as perhaps their first acquisition in Japanese art, they bought a $2 poster of a sixteenth-century screen painting depicting a Portuguese ship arriving in Japan, very much like the actual pair of screens now in the exhibition.
The exhibition is made possible by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Fund.