Exhibitions/ Designing Nature

Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art

At The Met Fifth Avenue
May 26, 2012–January 13, 2013

Exhibition Overview

"Rinpa" is a modern term that refers to a distinctive style of Japanese pictorial and applied arts that arose in the early seventeenth century and has continued through modern times. Literally meaning "school of Korin," Rinpa derives its name from Ogata Korin (1658–1716), a celebrated painter from Kyoto. It embraces art marked by a bold, graphic abbreviation of natural motifs, frequent reference to traditional court literature and poetry, the lavish use of expensive mineral and metallic pigments, incorporation of calligraphy into painting compositions, and innovative experimentation with new brush techniques.

The exhibition features more than one hundred brilliantly executed works of art created in Japan by the Rinpa-school artists. The works on view are part of the first rotation; the second rotation will open on September 12, 2012. Highlighting the school's most prominent proponents, this two-part presentation traces the development of the Rinpa aesthetic and demonstrates how its style continued to influence artists throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Comprising more than fifty works from the Museum's own holdings supplemented by forty-five loans from public and private collections on the east coast, the exhibition includes many masters' renowned works in a variety of media—painting, textiles, lacquerware, and ceramics.

Works on view in the first rotation include an early eighteenth-century two-panel folding screen, Rough Waves, by Korin, depicting highly stylized waves; another eighteenth-century two-panel folding screen, The Persimmon Tree, by Sakai Hoitsu (1761–1828), the founder of the Edo branch of Rinpa, revealing the ink-painting techniques he learned from predecessors such as Tawaraya Sotatsu (died ca. 1643); a pair of six-panel folding screens, Morning Glories, by Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858), the primary pupil of Hoitsu, capturing the exuberant proliferation of the blossoms and leaves though space and omitted natural settings or context.

A centerpiece of the second rotation will be the famous Korin Irises at Yatsuhashi (Eight Bridges), with its brilliant array of clusters of purple irises against a gold background. A screen of calligraphy by Konoe Nobutada (1565–1614) featuring transcriptions by female poets of the Heian court, on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery, will be put on public display for the first time.

By the late nineteenth century, the idea of a distinctive Rinpa style had become firmly established both in the Japanese consciousness of a national history of art and on an international basis. To a certain extent, Rinpa became synonymous with the very idea of Japanese art, since its aesthetic permeated the lacquerware, textiles, and ceramics that were transmitted to the West. Among the artists of the modern age, who exemplified the transmission of a Kyoto-based aesthetic into modern consciousness, were Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891), a lacquer artist and painter, and Kamisaka Sekka (1866–1942), who excelled in both painting and print media.

Featured Media


Ink Painting and the Rinpa Tradition


Brushed with Passion: Calligraphy Styles for Japanese Poems

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in

Works in the Exhibition

The exhibition is made possible by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation.

The catalogue is made possible by the Richard and Geneva Hofheimer Memorial Fund.