Art and Paradise
Those who are enriched
By their deep appreciation
Of all the fine arts
Are people indeed
Living in paradise.
I think a religion
without any teachings on Art
Does not have the power
To lead to paradise.
The most precious Art of all
Is the Art that
Gives pleasure to man,
Uplifting his heart.
Since my youth I have always liked painting. Of all the great painters throughout the ages, Korin Ogata is my favorite. Among the artists belonging to the Korin School, there are those who have admirable qualities, such as Koetsu, Sotatsu, Koho and Kenzan. Korin, however, is by far the best. He depicted the truth of his subject in the simplest way unparalleled by any other. He disregarded the physical form of his object, yet he faithfully managed to present it in its entirety. His technique is comparable to a Japanese tanka, a 31-syllable poem, that inspires readers like no speech can.
What amazes me most is the fact that he took a bold departure from traditional Japanese painting, which had held on to stereotypes imported from China. He got rid of lines and made designs of his subjects. Simply stated, he developed a revolutionary painting technique, making a courageous breakthrough from conventional restrictions.
Korin's achievements brought about a revolution in art circles in the Meiji period--more than 200 years after his death. Let me share with you an episode illustrating this connection, which happened more than thirty years ago, when I had a chance to meet with Mr. Tenshin Okakura (1). Okakura had just begun a life of seclusion in Izura, Ibaraki Prefecture, accompanied by his associates, Taikan Yokoyama (2), Shunso Hishida (3), Kanzan Shimomura (4), and Buzan Kimura (5). He shared with me his vision for the future of Japanese painting, which not only gave me immense insight but also made me aware of his most unusual talents. I spent a whole night talking with Shimomura and Kimura. Shimomura said, "The reason Mr. Okakura founded the Japan Fine Arts Academy was to reactivate Korin in modern art. Our real intention, therefore, is not to use lines. Other artists despise us for our 'blurred style,' but I have no doubt that we will be widely recognized in time."
Sure enough, as most people know, paintings of the Academy soon dominated the art world in Japan, revolutionizing Japanese painting. Shimomura also said, "Realism in Western painting reached its zenith with its interest in minute details. Competing with photography, artists found themselves at a complete impasse. When there was an urgent need for a major change, some in the French art community discovered Korin. We can imagine how much they marveled at Korin's technique, which was the very opposite of elaborate, sophisticated techniques of Western realism. Subsequently, art nouveau designs were born and so was the early impressionist movement, culminating in the late impressionist art represented by such great masters as Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne. Moreover, Korin had an impact on all arts and crafts, including architecture, which, fueled by the sezession movement (6), underwent a transformation from the Greek and Roman styles. As is well known, this gave birth to what is called modern architecture, forcing Renaissance architecture to the sidelines. There is no denying that the extremely simplified, world-famous architectural style created by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbisier also was initially influenced by Korin."
Indeed, Korin was one person who, a few hundred years after his death, impacted the entire world and revolutionized an important aspect of human civilization. It is not too much to say that he deserves to be the object of Japan's pride more than any other individual. Japan has never boasted another whose contribution affected an entire phase of human civilization.
~ August 30, 1949
1. Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913) is known primarily for his attempts to protect and restore traditional Japanese art forms. He began studying English at nine and entered Tokyo School of Foreign Languages at eleven. Later he studied at Tokyo University under Ernest F. Penollosa, professor of philosophy and economics, who had a great interest in Japanese art. In 1886 Okakura traveled to Europe and America to study Western art and art education. Okakura was one of the founders of Japan's first official art academy, Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (now Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music) which opened in 1889.
Meishu-sama enrolled at Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko in 1897 when Okakura was president. After a few months, however, Meishu-sama had to withdraw from the school because of his eye trouble.) Later Okakura lectured and traveled in the United States and Europe as part of an effort to educate the West about Asian culture. Among his published books, the best known is The Book of Tea (1906). In 1905 he became an advisor and later assistant curator to the Chinese and Japanese Department of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He often commuted between Boston and Japan. Tenshin was Okakura's pen-name, his real name being Kakuzo.
2. Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) is best known for his masterpiece: Cherry Blossoms at Night, a pair of six-panel folding screens. He was prominent in the movement led by Tenshin Okakura to develop a new style of Japanese painting respectful of, but not enslaved to, past traditions.
3. Shunso Hishida (1874-1911) copied many religious paintings in Kyoto and Nara for the Imperial Household Museum (now Tokyo National Museum) and taught at the Tokyo Bijitsu Gakko. Tenshin Okakura was his mentor.
4. Kanzan Shimomura (1873-1930) was a faculty member of Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko, appointed an artist for the Imperial Household, and.a student of early Buddhist painting and Tosa School scrolls.
5. Buzan Kimura (1876-1942) is best known as a Buddhist painter.
6. Sezession is a German word referring to a movement engineered in 1897 by a group of young artists including Otto Wagner.
Red and White Plum Blossoms (紙本金地著色紅白梅図) is a pair of two-panel byōbu folding screens painted by Kōrin using ink and color on gold-foiled paper. A late masterpiece, completed probably circa 1712–16 in his atelier in Kyoto, it is considered his crowning achievement. The simple, stylized composition of the work depicts a patterned flowing river with a white plum tree on the left and a red plum tree on the right. The plum blossoms indicate the scene occurs in spring.
In addition to the use of tarashikomi, the work is notable for its plum flowers depicted using pigment only, without any outline, now a popular technique known as Kōrin Plum Flowers.
Each screen measures 156.5 × 172.5 centimeters (61.6 × 67.9 in). Red and White Plum Blossoms belonged for a long time to the Tsugaru clan, but were purchased by Mokichi Okada in the mid-1950s. Along with the rest of Okada's collection, it is now owned by the MOA Museum of Art in Atami, where they are displayed for one month per year in late winter, the season when the plum blossoms bloom. It is listed as a National Treasure of Japan.
Irises (紙本金地著色燕子花図) is a pair of six-panel byōbu folding screens made circa 1701–05, using ink and color on gold-foiled paper. The screens are among the first works of Kōrin as a hokkyō. It depicts abstracted blue Japanese irises in bloom, and their green foliage, creating a rhythmically repeating but varying pattern across the panels. The similarities of some blooms indicate that a stencil was used. The work shows influence of Tawaraya, and it is representative of the Rinpa school. It is inspired by an episode in the Heian-period text The Tales of Ise.
Each screen measures 150.9 by 338.8 centimeters (59.4 in × 133.4 in). They were probably made for the Nijō family, and were presented to the Nishi Honganji Buddhist temple in Kyoto, where they were held for over 200 years. They were sold by the temple in 1913, and are now held by the Nezu Museum, where they are exhibited occasionally (last time, from April 12 to May 14, 2017. They are listed as a National Treasure of Japan.