In one painting, a magnificent full moon rises over swaying autumn grasses, in another a stunning white cockatoo preens amid brilliant red maple leaves; regardless of the weather outside, fall has arrived in our Japanese galleries.
The moon holds a special association with autumn in Japan, as evinced by the first painting mentioned above, Tani Bunchō’s Grasses and Moon. This hanging scroll celebrates a moon-viewing party that took place during the eighth month of the lunar calendar (roughly September in the Gregorian calendar) of 1817, along the banks of the Sumida River in Edo (now Tokyo). The full moon of the eighth month was thought to be especially lovely, and the celebration of its beauty was also no doubt an excellent excuse for congregating with friends and enjoying a pleasant moonlit evening together. And what a moon it was; as Bunchō inscribes on the painting, “[T]he brilliant light was like the midday sun.”
This stunning painting is part of the Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg Collection, an extraordinary collection of over 300 works that spans the breadth of Edo period (1615–1868) painting. The Edo period is notable for the development of a variety of new painting schools, in part due to a widening range of art patrons, now including moneyed urban commoners in addition to the imperial court and samurai. The period also saw increased interest in imported Chinese and Western painting styles.
In the past year, the museums have showcased this variety, including literati paintings of Chinese-inspired scenes rendered in expressive ink, bird-and-flower subjects executed in the refined naturalism of Maruyama School artists, and the depiction of dramatic courtesans and famous heroes of ukiyo-e painting. The breadth and depth of the Feinberg Collection will continue to be displayed in biannual installation changes in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum galleries on Level 2. Because of the use of light-sensitive pigments, Japanese and East Asian paintings are rotated roughly every six months to preserve the works for future generations. As each season brings new and novel pleasures, so too will each installation of Japanese paintings from the Feinberg Collection.
Look for the next installation of the Japanese and East Asian galleries in early December 2015. In the meantime, enjoy a selection of works from the Feinberg Collection in the slideshow above.
Quintana Heathman is the curatorial fellow in Japanese art at the Harvard Art Museums.