Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes:
Edo Masters From the Price Collection
Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C.
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The age of the samurai in Japan was also an age of high aesthetic achievement, said Paul Richard in The Washington Post. “Slicing through a torso with a curving steel blade and putting ink to silk with a liquid-loaded brush” were both admired skills. Masters of the brush, a few of whom were also masters of the sword, strove for the Japanese ideal of “the flawless stroke,” swift and self-assured. The 150 screens and scrolls on display as part of Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes were all created by artists of the Edo period, which began in 1615. During this two-and-half-century span of peaceful affluence, the decorative arts “flourished with prosperity, as did gift-giving and dressing up and generally showing off.” Bold religious portraits render such figures as Daruma, founder of Zen. Surprising natural scenes include a carp swimming up a waterfall and a monkey trying to catch a wasp. Studying them, you “find yourself astounded time and time again by the markings of a brush.”
Several screens by the artist Ito Jakuchu are the heart of this show, said Joanna Shaw-Eagle in The Washington Times, and the artist’s “almost surrealist imaging of animal life” establishes one of the exhibit’s main themes. “Tigers, birds, flowers, gods, ghosts,” and historical figures all play starring roles in most works here. Nature played an important part in the increasingly intricate and elaborate visual language gradually developed by artists of the period, during which “Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world.” But even Nagasawa Rosetsu’s enormous 18th-century screens, White Elephant and Black Bull, which reflect some European influences, have a “surrealist expressiveness and size” that marks them as creations of the Edo period.
These rare and fascinating objects are displayed in an innovative way that encourages us to “slow down” and look closely, said Glenn Dixon in the Washington Express. A novel lighting system gradually dims and brightens the illumination directed at some paintings, re-creating how the object would look “in a variety of conditions, from daylight to dusk.” The shifting shades alter your perception of a delicate work such as Katsu Jagyoku’s Rabbits and Pines in Snow/Crows and Plum Tree in Snow. “Waning light actually intensifies the contrast between the white-frosted trees and the flake-spattered darkness that surrounds them.” These paintings are so extremely light-sensitive that not all can be displayed for the show’s entire duration, so different screens and scrolls will be rotated. “If you want to see all the Sackler has, plan multiple visits.”
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