Paintings of cherry trees in isolation are surprisingly rare, considering they are the quintessential symbol of Japan. The cherry tree serves in literature and painting as an emblem of spring or an allusion to certain famous sites (meisho) such as Yoshino, near Nara. This small-screen composition—which originally probably lacked the wide silver band at the bottom—illustrates Sakai Hōitsu’s unerring sense of space, created here by an expanse of gold leaf.
Hōitsu, an ardent admirer of the Kyoto artist Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), strove to transplant the Rinpa aesthetic to Edo. Hōitsu was trained in painting as well as in the literary arts of haikai (seventeen-syllable seasonal verse) and kyōka (thirty-one-syllable witty verse). His immersion in haikai, with its sensitivity to the seasons, is reflected in his attention to individual floral subjects not central to the traditional repertory of mainstream painting studios.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
2015.300.93.1, right screen, overall
2015.300.93.2, left screen, overall
2015.300.93.1, panels 1 and 2
2015.300.93.1, panels 3 and 4
2015.300.93.1, panels 5 and 6
2015.300.93.2, panels 1 and 2
2015.300.93.2, panels 3 and 4
2015.300.93.2, panels 5 and 6
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Title:Blossoming Cherry Trees
Artist:Sakai Hōitsu (Japanese, 1761–1828)
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Medium:Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold leaf on paper
Dimensions:Image: 38 x 82 3/16 in. (96.5 x 208.8 cm) Overall with mounting: 39 9/16 × 83 3/4 in. (100.5 × 212.8 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:2015.300.93.1, .2
Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828), who painted this simple and elegant pair of screens, was an ardent admirer of the art of Ogata Kōrin (cat. nos. 132, 133), and eventually he succeeded where Kōrin had failed—in transplanting the Kyoto art of Rinpa to Edo. Hōitsu was born in this new center of power, the second son of Sakai Tadamochi, lord of Harima Province and Himeji Castle. He was thus part of the elite of Edo society. He was trained not only in the martial arts—as befitting a member of the samurai class—but in the literary arts of haikai and kyōka (satirical poetry), and in painting. Through his family's patronage, Hōitsu came to know such eminent painters of Edo as Sō Shiseki, Kameda Bōsai, who frequently wrote colophons on Hōitsu's paintings, and Tani Bunchō (cat. nos. 166-168). No doubt reflecting the styles of these older contemporaries, Hōitsu's work reveals many influences, but his earliest interest seems to have been in ukiyo-e, the paintings and prints of city life, especially as observed in the pleasure quarters of the capital. Hōitsu based several paintings on the work of the leading ukiyo-e painter and printmaker Utagawa Toyoharu (1735–1814). One of these, dated to 1785, also reveals the influences of Nagasaki-school realism and of the Kano manner, suggesting that Hōitsu was already well versed in several styles while still in his early twenties.
In 1797, Hōitsu took the tonsure under the guidance of a monk from Nishi Honganji, Kyoto, who was visiting Edo at the time. He nevertheless continued to lead a secular life; indeed, he later lived with a former courtesan of the Yoshiwara district of Edo. Ostensibly, he had taken the tonsure for reasons of health, but so doing enabled him to remove himself from official duties, which must have increased after the death of his older brother. As a monk, Hōitsu immersed himself in the artistic life. In 1798, he traveled to Nishi Honganji to visit the monk who had officiated at his investiture. The temple owned the Irises, a famous pair of screens by Kōrin now in the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo (fig. 50, pages 308–9), and Hōitsu most likely had the opportunity to study them during his visit. His paintings dating to 1801, one of which is the Irises formerly in the Aschwin Lippe collection, certainly reflect the influence of the Kōrin work.
Hōitsu seems to have regarded the revival of Kōrin's art in Edo as a lifelong personal mission. In 1815, he published the Ogata ryū ryaku inpu (A Selection of Seals from the Kōrin School). The same year, he organized the commemoration of the centennial of Kōrin's death, which involved a retrospective exhibition and the publication of a catalogue of Kōrin's work the Kōrinhyakuzu (A Selection of One Hundred Paintings by Kōrin). In 1817, Hōitsu's own oeuvre was published as the Ōson Gafu (Collected Paintings of Hōitsu). His publishing activities also included a catalogue of the work of Kōrin's brother Kenzan (1663–1743), which appeared in 1823. But despite his involvement with many different schools, most of his own work, even the ink-monochrome paintings, reflect the Rinpa style.
Paintings of cherry trees—the premier symbol of Japan—in isolation are surprisingly rare. An emblem of spring in literature and painting or an allusion to a famous site (meisho; cat. nos. 140, 141), cherry trees had rarely, if ever, been treated alone as a subject for painting. Here, three cherry trees—one large and venerable, at the right, and two young and slender, at the left—seem to reach beyond the painting frame to entwine their branches. Originally without the wide silver band at the bottom, the composition illustrates Hōitsu's unerring sense of space, created by an expanse of gold leaf.
The screens have the sophistication that characterizes the art of Hōitsu and the art of Rinpa after it was freed from the literary allusions with which it had been associated since its beginnings in Kyoto. The signature name, "Kishin," was one of three priestly names that Hōitsu adopted in 1797. "Hōitsu," which appears in the seal, is the name he began to use about 1798. Judging from the calligraphic style of the signature, the screens would date to about 1805, when Hōitsu was in his mid-forties.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 The painting, which depicts two sisters, is in the Hosomi Museum, Kyoto; see Chiba Municipal Museum 1996, no. 156.  Kōno Motoaki 1978, fig. 6; Nakamachi Keiko 1990, p. 87.  Kobayashi Tadashi 1990, p. 301.
Signature: Kishin hitsu (each screen)
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
Tokyo National Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," May 21, 1985–June 30, 1985.
Nagoya City Art Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," August 17, 1985–September 23, 1985.
Atami. MOA Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," September 29, 1985–October 27, 1985.
Hamamatsu City Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," November 12, 1985–December 1, 1985.
New York. Asia Society. "Art of Japan: Selections from the Burke Collection, pts. I and II," October 2, 1986–February 22, 1987.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Die Kunst des Alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," September 16, 1990–November 18, 1990.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. Japan Society Gallery. "Silver Winds: the Art of Sakai Hoitsu (1761–1828) and His Circle," September 28, 2012–January 6, 2013.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
Murashige Yasushi 村重寧, and Kobayashi Tadashi 小林忠, eds. Rinpa 琳派, Vol. 2, Kachō 2 花鳥 II (Seasonal Flowering Plants and Birds) Kyoto: Shikōsha, 1990, pp. 38–38, cat. no. 57.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, cat. no. 93.
Carpenter, John T. Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, p. 151, cat. no. 61.
McKelway, Matthew P. Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828). Exh. cat. New York: Japan Society, 2012, cat. no. 7.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 160, cat. no. 191.
Carpenter, John T. The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018, pp. 48–49, fig. 13.
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