Mount Geumgang, also known as the Diamond Mountains, ranks among the most iconic and visually stunning sites in Korea. Today its location in North Korea, not far from the border that divides the peninsula, imbues the mountains with a sense of mystery and longing.
This enchanting painting presents an impressive panorama of this famed landscape. The visual journey unfolds from right to left (following the traditional East Asian format), traversing myriad rocky peaks and rolling hills covered in foliage, with a number of stops at bodies of water and Buddhist temples. The artist, Sin Hakgwon (1785–1866), was a literati painter active in the mid-19th century who perpetuated and expanded upon an earlier tradition of true-view landscape painting, especially as developed by Jeong Seon (1676–1759). In the 18th century, the phenomenon of creating images of native locales based on actual travel and first-hand experience rose to new heights. Ironically, although a fervent admirer of Jeong and his paintings of this particular subject, Sin himself never made the journey to the celebrated site. Only a handful of Sin's works are known; this is the first of this artist's landscapes to be acquired by The Met. Significantly, this is also the first painting depicting the Diamond Mountains to enter the Museum's collection.
This traditional Burmese parabaik book is painted on a locally produced mulberry bark paper. A white chalk-based ground is applied to prepare the surfaces for receiving the painted scenes. Fourteen scenes are depicted, composed in a series of two-, four-, and six-page compositions, spanning a total of 66 pages. They depict scenes of court processions and entertainments. The painting style was developed in the reign of King Mindon and continued under his son, Thibaw, the last king of Burma. The paintings display a hybridity reflecting Burmese religious narrative painting blended with European pictorial devices. This scene depicts a staged elephant fight performed for the benefit of royal observers in a pavilion.
In the late 1670s, when he needed a landscape painter to illustrate his forthcoming Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual, author and publisher Li Yu (1610–1680) turned to Wang Gai (1645–1710), a professional painter of landscapes who lived and worked in Nanjing. Wang mixed easily with literati luminaries like his townsman Gong Xian (1619–1689), but his practice was more diverse, encompassing the vast range of historical styles; it was precisely this versatility that suited him to the wide-ranging work of illustrating a painting manual. Though he never achieved the heights of fame of men like Gong, Wang's impact on Chinese painting history has been perhaps greater, as the Mustard Seed Manual went on to become the most influential work of its type, widely used throughout East Asia from the late 17th century until today.
Remarkably, Wang has been to this point unrepresented in the collection, a major gap that has finally been addressed by Matthew J. Edlund's generous gift of Reminiscence of Jinling, painted in 1686, just a few years after the publication of the Mustard Seed Manual. The painting depicts Jinling (modern-day Nanjing) beside the surging Yangzi River—with boats being tossed on its turbulent waves. Onshore, men wearing the hats of Qing officials look on from the tower of a city wall. Though the circumstances of the subject matter remain a mystery, the painting is an excellent example of Wang's work, an eloquent statement of both his sensitivity to historical styles and his technical finesse, and it allows The Met to tell the story of Nanjing's vibrant, late 17th-century art scene with an added layer of depth.
The recent gift of 20 contemporary Japanese ceramics from Alice and Halsey North, long-time collectors of contemporary clay, demonstrates that the long history of Japanese ceramics is currently in a remarkably creative phase. Not only are most traditional techniques and styles being enlivened and transformed, but a new emphasis on non-functional, sculptural ceramics has enabled many younger potters to expand their artistic range. The group of ceramic sculpture from the postwar years, when ceramic artists began to create works based on their own aesthetic sensibility rather than on any utilitarian function, is the highlight of the North gift, and it expands the depth and breadth of The Met's ceramic collection.
In postwar Japan, emerging from a pottery industry steeped in tradition and associated with categories of utilitarian vessels, several young Kyoto ceramicists struggled to redefine their work as potters and to establish clay as a valid medium for abstract sculpture. In 1948 they formed a group named Sōdeisha, the "Crawling-through-Mud Association." Their leader was Yagi Kazuo (1918–1979). The Sōdeisha artists, most prominently the founding members, Yamada Hikaru (1923–2001) and Suzuki Osamu (1926–2001), recognized that conventional ceramic form was dictated by use of the potter's wheel—the tool they had been trained to revere as essential to the Kyoto potter's craft. They realized they would have to wean themselves from the wheel and turn to hand-building methods in order to create new forms. Such forms became known as obuje ("objets"), borrowing the term used by French Surrealists for sculptures composed of objects taken from everyday life.
The large two-panel screen painting Chōmeiji Temple Pilgrimage Mandala, purchased with funds donated by Sue Cassidy Clark, captures the activities of temple monks and visitors from all walks of life who visited the temple to make offerings. Pilgrimage mandalas (sankei mandara) relate the miraculous stories and seasonal activities of famous temples or shrines. This particular example was no doubt used by temple-affiliated itinerant storytellers to help raise funds for the rebuilding of the Chōmeiji Temple complex after it was razed by fire in 1516.
Calligraphy by Fujiwara no Yukinari, a precious fragment of an early 11th-century calligraphy handscroll remounted as a hanging scroll, was donated by Raymond and Priscilla Vickers. It was brushed by the celebrated courtier-calligrapher Fujiwara no Yukinari, who earned a reputation as the consolidator of the Japanese (wayō) style. He mastered Chinese models associated with Wang Xizhi (ca. 303–361), but imbued characters with a slightly gentler, more rounded feel that harmonized with Japanese kana writing. The text is a section from the autobiography of Bai Juyi (772–846), written when he was 67. The title derives from one of his poetry names—"Master of Drunken Poetry Recitation" (Zuiyin Xiansheng 醉吟先生)—characters that appear in the righthand column of this fragment (see detail). In his autobiography, Bai Juyi constructs a persona of a literatus growing old gracefully while enjoying wine, music, and poetry.
The selection of 71 masterworks of bamboo art, comprising baskets and abstract sculptures from the Diane and Arthur Abbey Collection, will be transformative for The Met's holdings of Japanese decorative arts. These works date from the late 19th century to the present—the period during which basketry became recognized as a form of art transcending "craft." Key stages in the stylistic and technical evolution of modern bamboo art are represented by major examples from all the main lineages of Japanese bamboo masters working in the three regional centers of this art: Kansai (western Japan, around Osaka), Kantō (eastern Japan, around Tokyo), and the island of Kyūshū. Thus, the Abbey Collection makes it possible to trace the transmission of this tradition within artistic lineages from the different regions of Japan.
The promised gifts range from highly refined utilitarian bamboo vessels, mainly ikebana flower baskets and sencha tea ceremony utensils, to sculptural forms that echo universal trends in the contemporary art world. All combine technical perfection with artistic individuality and aesthetic innovation. Highlights of the selection include 11 works by all six artists who have been designated Living National Treasures by the Japanese government, as well as numerous other award-winning pieces. The Abbey promised gift will allow The Met to tell the modern history of basketry from the 1870s until the present day to complement the nearly 80 bamboo baskets bequeathed to The Met in 1891 by Edward C. Moore (1827–1891), artistic director and chief designer of silver manufacturing for Tiffany and Co.