Press release

The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection

Poetry of Nature

Exhibition Dates:  February 27, 2018–January 21, 2019 
Exhibition Location:  The Met Fifth Avenue, Floor 2, Arts of Japan, The Sackler Wing Galleries, 225–32
Press Preview:  Monday, February 26, 10 am–12 pm


Painting blossomed in Japan during the Edo period (1615–1868), as artists daringly experimented with conventional styles. Novel approaches to pictorial art came to Japan from China or the West, and new schools or styles emerged when individual painters stepped outside the rules set forth by established painting academies. The exhibition The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection, opening February 27 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, will trace the development of the major schools and movements of this fascinating era. Featured will be more than 40 outstanding examples of Edo-period hanging scroll paintings from the collection of Estelle P. Bender and her late husband, T. Richard Fishbein. Many of these paintings—mostly gifts and promised gifts to The Met—have not been displayed or published in the West. Inspired by the way the collectors enjoyed these works in their home, the exhibition will present the Edo-period paintings in juxtaposition with some 15 contemporary Japanese ceramics from the Fishbein-Bender Collection. Unexpected pairings of paintings and decorative objects are also part of an age-old Japanese tradition called tori-awase (connoisseurial arrangement). An additional 50 works in various formats and media from The Met collection will provide further context. Some of the light-sensitive works on paper and silk will be rotated partway through the exhibition.

The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by the Bender-Fishbein-Goodman Family.

The celebration of the natural world will serve as a unifying theme, and the distinctive interaction of poetry and the pictorial arts that is fundamental to Japanese tradition will be a particular focus of the exhibition.The Poetry of Nature will shed new light on the ways in which Edo artists used verse to transform their paintings into a hybrid literary and visual art. All Japanese texts will be translated into English to assist general visitors in appreciating the interrelationship between the written word and the painted image.

The works from the Fishbein-Bender Collection are primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries and represent important artists and every major school and artistic movement of the Edo period, including Kano, Rinpa, Nanga, Zen, Maruyama-Shijō, and Ukiyo-e.

Though the Fishbein-Bender Collection focuses on the schools that broke away from the orthodox academies, such as the Kano and Tosa schools, it does include a virtuoso painting of waxwings and cherry blossoms by Kiyohara Yukinobu, a highly skilled woman painter of her day who was trained by Kano masters. Rinpa—literally the "school of [Ogata Kō]rin," referring to the great Kyoto painter of the early 18th century—is an area in which the Fishbein-Bender Collection excels; notable works include the atmospheric Moon and Kudzu Vine, by Sakai Hōitsu, and Frog on a Lotus Leaf, by his top disciple, Suzuki Kiitsu. Nanga artists, who sought to revive the ideals of the literati culture of China within a Japanese environment, held ink paintings of expressive brushwork by Ike Taiga and his wife Gyokuran in high esteem. The poet-painter Yosa Buson is strongly represented by Deer in Moonlight, bought in honor of Mr. Fishbein's 60th birthday, while the more energetically brushed Herb Gatherers in the Mountains was one of the collectors' final acquisitions before Mr. Fishbein's untimely death in October 2014. Zen painting and calligraphy had never been a focus of their collecting interests, but they could not resist acquiring the magically powerful calligraphy with the oversize Chinese character for "Virtue," by the monk Hakuin Ekaku. The Maruyama-Shijō school, famous for its marvelously naturalistic renderings of flora and fauna, is superbly represented by Two Deer beneath Maple Trees, by the school's founder, Maruyama Ōkyo. The final section of the exhibition contains imaginary portraits of women of the Yoshiwara demimonde, including a rare and beautifully preserved painting of a courtesan by Hishikawa Moronobu of the late 17th century.

The Collectors

Longtime residents of New York and supporters of The Met, Estelle P. Bender and her late husband, T. Richard Fishbein, shared a love of art and travel, especially to Europe and Japan, since the time they met in the late 1970s. At first they collected in various areas, including ceramics and Japanese prints, but eventually focused on Edo-period paintings. Commenting about why they collected, they noted that they enjoyed the great diversity of Edo-period art as represented by different schools and lineages. At first they focused on works that manifested gestural and expressionistic qualities of the brushwork, the subtle gradations of ink, and the interplay of empty spaces and inked areas. They eventually broadened their focus and went on to acquire several works, especially paintings of the Ukiyo-e school, which are full of color and compositional complexity. Mr. Fishbein notes in his preface to the catalogue, "The works we enjoyed most were understated and elegant, peaceful and soothing, reflecting Estelle's taste and predilections." A unifying thread of the diverse works in the collection is an underlying lyrical sensitivity drawing on the poems inscribed on the works or inspired by the deep interaction of poetry, painting, and calligraphy in the Japanese pictorial tradition.

Dr. Bender is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst on the faculty of the Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. The late Mr. Fishbein was formerly a partner of the Cortec Group, a private equity investment firm in New York.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using hashtag #PoetryofNature.

The exhibition is organized by John T. Carpenter, the Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art, with Monika Bincsik, Assistant Curator, both in the Department of Asian Art.

A fully illustrated catalogue by Mr. Carpenter, with contributions by Midori Oka, Associate Director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Japanese Art, Columbia University, will accompany the exhibition. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the book will be available in The Met Store (paperback, $30).

Education programs organized to complement the exhibition include regular gallery tours and a lecture series on "The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection" by Mr. Carpenter. The lectures, which will take place at 11 a.m. in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, are: "Drawing on the Canon of Chinese Poetry in Literati Painting" (March 6); "Ancient Japanese Courtly Verse in Edo-Period Paintings" (March 13); and "Popular Verse in Late-Edo Painting, Prints, and Books" (March 20).

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Updated February 5, 2018


Image: Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795), Two Deer beneath Maple Trees, 1787. Hanging scroll, color on silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fishbein-Bender Collection, Promised Gift of T. Richard Fishbein and Estelle P. Bender

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