At the Crossroads – Verism & Artifice in Early Modern Japanese Art

Title: 1232 | At the Crossroads – Verism & Artifice in Early Modern Japanese Art
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Pauline Ota, DePauw University, United States (organizer, presenter, chair)
Kazuko Kameda-Madar, University of Hawai'i, West Oahu, United States (presenter)
Naoko Matsumoto, Nijō Castle Office, Japan (presenter)
Helen Nagata, Northern Illinois University, United States (presenter)


This panel examines the function of, and/or relationships between, verism and artifice in art during Japan’s early modern period (1603-1868). While the focus of each of the four papers will be on specific works of art, the roles played by poetry, literature, popular storytelling, and encyclopedic compendia in their creation also will be explored. Under what circumstances was verism preferred over artifice and vice versa? How might verism and/or artifice strengthen the overall impact or add to the allure of art? The answers reveal an early modern Japan engaging with novel ideas and knowledge from within, as well as beyond, its borders and advancing towards a crossroads, one that would lead to Japan’s modern turn.

Kameda-Madar compares two distinct paintings on the Orchid Pavilion Gathering theme, one by Ike Taiga, depicting an idealized community, and another by Maruyama Ōkyo, presenting a continuum from actual space to illusionary space. Matsumoto also investigates differing approaches to one subject, analyzing two "Paintings of Rice Cultivation in the Four Seasons," one by Nakajima Kayō and the other by Kano Eigaku, and focusing on Kayō’s employment of verism. Nagata examines the humanity that lies in the convergence of verism and artifice at the heart of Kawamura Kihō’s artistic expression in the printed book "Leave Joys and Sorrows to the Brush" (Kafuku ninpitsu, 1809). And, Ota interrogates the adroit juxtaposition of the convincingly true-to-life with the charmingly idealized in Maruyama Ōkyo’s "Puppies Among Bamboo in the Snow," seeking the early modern heart of the kawaii aesthetic.

Panel Abstracts:
So Cute! Maruyama Ōkyo’s Puppies Among Bamboo in the Snow and the Kawaii Aesthetic
Maruyama Ōkyo’s representations of puppies are quite well known. Playful, chubby, and brimming with wide-eyed innocence, the puppies depicted in a number of Ōkyo works never fail to elicit exclamations of adoration: “Kawaii (so cute)!” But what exactly makes these paintings so appealing? Using Ōkyo’s 1784 "Puppies Among Bamboo in the Snow" as a case study, this paper suggests an answer to this question. Along with a holistic analysis of the screen painting, I identify those elements that contribute to this perceived “cuteness,” arguing that it is the skillful juxtaposition of representational verism and charming artifice that creates and sustains the sense of the adorable. In "Puppies Among Bamboo in the Snow," Ōkyo not only employs techniques such as katakuma (shading on one side for three-dimensional effect) to depict a believable snowy, outdoor scene, but also displays a cogent understanding of human perceptual quirks gleaned from experience and the study of relevant texts, including Chinese painting treatises, to produce an image that can compete with any adorable puppy photo on Instagram. Indeed, Ōkyo appears to have come up with a formula for the kawaii aesthetic, which remains one of the driving forces of Japanese popular culture and Japan’s soft power today.

Illusionary Space/Idealized Space: Comparing the Orchid Pavilion Paintings by Ōkyo and Taiga
In 1768, Maruyama Ōkyo produced a set of mural paintings rendering the Orchid Pavilion theme, which consists of nine parts, including four large, and four small sliding-door paintings, and one painting pasted directly on the wall. This set must have been originally located on the three sides of a room. A significance of this representation of the Orchid Pavilion is that the viewer is surrounded by imagery that makes him/her feel as though he/she is participating in the actual Orchid Pavilion gathering. The most distinct characteristic of this painting lies in the illusion of a continuum from the actual space of the room to that of the pictorial space. Ōkyo produced these mural paintings fifteen years after Ike Taiga painted the same theme on a votive panel dedicated to Gion Shrine in 1754. So, Ōkyo must have been quite familiar with Taiga’s version. On the one hand, Taiga created his image of the Orchid Pavilion in a space independent from where the viewer is located – his purpose was not to create a sense of continuum but rather to project an image of an ideal community. For Taiga, his pictorial space existed in a separate universe from actual space even if he painted on walls or sliding doors. On the other hand, Ōkyo perceived that his painting was a part of the architectural elements and consciously created pictorial illusions to connect actual and fictional spaces.

Representing a Bumper Harvest: Paintings of Rice Cultivation in the Four Seasons
This paper examines "Paintings of Rice Cultivation in the Four Seasons" produced in the 19th century. “Rice Cultivation” was one of the established painting themes in China during the Northern Song period (960-1127). When this theme was introduced in Japan in the 15th century, artists followed Chinese models, relying upon funpon copybooks. However, this theme was adapted into a Japanese rendering from the 17th century onward. With the rise of Maruyama Ōkyo and his followers in the 18th century, a series of works depicting actual rural landscapes became a prominent genre. One example from the later 19th century is a mural painting by Nakajima Kayō located in the Katsura-no-miya Palace. A pair of screens depicting this theme by Kano Eigaku, who was a contemporary of Kayō, adapted Chinese customs instead, using the traditional Kano school method. By comparing the two images of “Rice Cultivation,” this paper reconsiders Kayō’s verism—Kayō worked with a traditional painting theme but rendered it realistically. His painting refers to the preliminary celebration of a bumper harvest. Although it is painted in a “realistic” style, it is also an idealized world desired by the patron and thus the harshness of actual rural life was completely eliminated. This type of landscape, that of an idealized rural area, was often depicted in the modern period.

In Contemplation of a Style that Speaks: Kawamura Kihō’s Pictorial Expression in the Printed Book "Leave Joys and Sorrows to the Brush" (Kafuku ninpitsu)
The memorable images designed by Kawamura Kihō 河村琦鳳 (1778-1852) for the printed book "Leave Joys and Sorrows to the Brush" (Kafuku ninpitsu 禍福任筆, 1809) published in Kyoto by Yoshidaya Shinbē 吉田屋新兵衛 instantly demand attention for their surprising contemporary subjects and bold style. Even more intriguing is the stunning manner with which they reflect a mature artistic vision born from a brush style that is assured and authoritative even while loose and rough. The scenes combine a light-heartedness with misery, gaiety with poverty, or gravitas with nonchalance. Verism in the daily-life details of commoners’ lives seems to take center stage, but interpretation of the book’s emotive expression and ultimate message poses a fascinating challenge. How should these compositions be understood in the context of references in the book to Chinese themes, such as the principles of sanzesō and its associations with Buddhist philosophy and ancient divination? How can we understand Kiho’s art in the context his artistic development as the adopted son of Kawamura Bunpō (1779-1821)? In the cultural landscape of Kyoto dominated by the popularity of artists such as Ōkyo, Goshun, Taiga, or Ganku, and abuzz with literary activity, especially by kyōka or comic verse enthusiasts, where and how does the "Kafuku ninpitsu" in particular fit in? It is a herculean task to define Kihō’s unique artistic voice at the crossroads of these contexts, but a task worth doing

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