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Natural Beauty in Japanese Art: An exhibition devoted to images of nature to open at Scholten Japanese Art
Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950), Kumoi Cherry Trees, ca. 1927, woodblock print, 23 7/8 by 31 1/8 in., 60.5 by 79 cm.

NEW YORK, NY.- Scholten Japanese Art presents, Kacho Fugetsu: Natural Beauty in Japanese Art, an exhibition devoted to images of nature. The Japanese title, Kacho Fugetsu is comprised of the kanji (characters) for flower (ka), bird (cho), wind (fu) and moon (getsu)- and is collectively referred to as the 'beauties of nature.’ The theme of kacho fugetsu encompasses everything that is not of the man-made world, and reflects a heightened awareness of nature which is fundamental to traditional Japanese society and artistic sensibilities.

So much of Japanese art is devoted to images of natural subjects (kacho-ga, lit. bird and flower pictures) that in some ways it is difficult to recognize it as a distinct subject. However, in Japanese artistic traditions nature is central to all schools and genres and kacho-ga has long been recognized as one of three distinctive artistic categories originally based on Chinese classification along with sansui-ga (lit. 'mountains and water' or landscapes pictures) and jinbutsu-ga (figural pictures or portraits) which is commonly portrayed in the form of bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful people).

The exhibition will be comprised of paintings and woodblock printed works. An ink on silk hanging scroll by Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918), Autumn Night (Aki no yo), depicts stems of fujibakama (lit. ‘purple flowers’ associated with autumn) bending under the weight of their pale pinkish-lavender blossoms with a full moon in the background. The simple composition and the delicate brushwork illustrating the flowers and the moon quietly captures nature in a way that exemplifies the kacho fugestu theme. Seitei was an accomplished painter who was particularly well-known for his sensitive depictions of kacho-ga in paintings, book illustrations as well as designs for ceramics and cloisonné.

The exhibition will include woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), one of the most famous artists of the 19th century who is perhaps more associated in the West for his prints depicting landscapes along the Tokaido (the road between two capitals of Edo and Kyoto) or cityscapes of famous views of Edo. In his time, however, Hiroshige also designed a number of kacho-e (bird and flower prints), although they were not likely issued in the massive quantities as his landscape subjects. As such, far fewer Hiroshige kacho-e have survived the ravages of time. The narrow-format print, Java Sparrow and Camellia is one such rare and sought-after example which depicts a variety of finch which were popular as pets in Japan. The expressive bird cocks his head ever so slightly on an angle while engaging the viewer's gaze. The poem at the top alludes to the bird's vigor: Brimming with youth, you splash out all your water, camellia flower!

Continuing in the print format will be a group of works by Ohara Koson (also known as Shoson, 1877-1945). Koson was one of the most important and prolific kacho-ga woodblock prints artists of the early 20th century shin hanga (new print) movement. He began publishing prints with Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962) after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, around 1926. Before the earthquake, Koson published kacho-e with Kokkeido (Akiyama Buemon) in Nihonbashi; Daikokuya (Matsuki Heikichi) in Ryogokubashi; and Nishinomiya Yosaku; always using the go (artist's name) Koson. When he began publishing with Watanabe Shozaburo, he adopted the go, Shoson. His prints are generally not dated and frequently without publisher seals. The exhibition will include earlier works signed Koson as well as later works published by Watanabe and bearing his signature Shoson.

A narrow print signed Koson, White-Fronted Goose Descending Over Reeds, published by Daikokuya circa 1910, makes an interesting comparison with a larger format print signed Shoson, Fly-Catcher on a Rose Mallow Watching a Spider published by Watanabe circa 1932. The earlier print, which was more simply produced, deftly uses a limited palette and subtle gradations of color to achieve an evocative image. The later work, published by Watanabe only two decades later, reflects a greater sophistication achieved in the printing process. Watanabe largely dominated the shin-hanga print market, in no small part because he produced very fine quality woodblock prints. His carvers and printers were highly skilled, and he invested more into the production by utilizing larger sheets of thicker (more expensive paper) and frequently more colors or gradations of color which added to the costs not only for pigments but also for the additional labor required to carve and print the blocks.

Another print in the exhibition by the artist Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950) raises the bar for woodblock printing techniques even further. Numazaki Pasture (Numazaki bokujo) from circa 1927 measures nearly 2 feet by just over 2 ½ feet (23 7/8 by 31 1/8 in.) and is one of the largest prints Yoshida ever produced and his fourth attempt at such a grand-scaled print. In order to handle the large sheets of paper he used three printers working in shifts that changed every five sheets. Although the edition was intended to run to 80 impressions, apparently only 59 were completed because the large prints were so technically challenging and expensive to produce. It’s extremely unusual to find an impression in good condition not only because so few were made but also because of the large size they were rarely stored safely.

The exhibition will present approximately ten paintings including works by: Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918), Mochizuki Gyokkei (1874-1938), Konoshima Okoku (1877-1938), Yamamura Koka (1885-1942), Tokuoka Shinsen (1896-1972), and Torii Kotondo (1900-1976); and approximately twenty woodblock printed works by various artists including Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Imao Keinen (1845-1923), Takahashi Hiroaki (Shotei, 1871-1945), Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950), Hashiguchi Goyo (1880-1921), Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), Yamamura Koka (1885-1942), and Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995).

Scholten Japanese Art is located at 145 West 58th Street, Suite 6D, between 6th and 7th Avenues.

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