Pair of two-leaf screens Crane. Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716). Glue tempera and gold leaf on paper, 163.5 x 178.8cm (each screen). Early 18th century, Edo period. Tokyo, Seikado Bunko Art Museum

Pair of two-leaf screens Deer. Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716). Glue tempera and gold leaf on paper, 163.5 x 178.8cm (each screen). Early 18th century, Edo period. Tokyo, Seikado Bunko Art Museum

The screens are of the Rimpa School, which spanned almost the entire Edo period (1603-1868), an era when Japan was totally isolated from foreign influences.

The first, Crane and Deer, loaned by the Seikado Bunko Art Museum in Tokyo, is an important work by Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716), one of the leading painters of this school in the seventeenth century. His work was particularly original as he avoided any Chinese or other influences and Kōrin is highly appreciated for his remarkable colour and almost Impressionist technique, making use of simple, idealised forms and a pronounced lack of interest in realism, tending towards abstraction. Kōrin’s designs were widely disseminated given that he also painted on lacquer and designed clothing and ceramics with his brother Ogata Kenzan. Crane and Deer is a large composition of a deer with a flowering cherry tree and a crane next to a maple tree. It thus represents the cycle of the seasons from spring to autumn. It is a particularly good example of this artist’s virtuoso ability to convey tones of white, which is one of his distinguishing features.

Sakai Hōitsu, who painted Plants and Flowers of the Four Seasons and a Stream from the Tokyo National Museum, was a great admirer of Ogata Kōrin and was known for imitating his compositions and style. Hōitsu (1761-1828) was another artist of the Rimpa School. His work clearly reveals an interest in ukiyo-e prints (images of the fleeting pleasures of life among the urban classes in Japan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) and in particular in the work of the great printmaker Utagawa Toyoharu. Hōitsu’s screen on display here falls within the period of his work executed after 1797 when he had become a Buddhist monk and was studying the work of both Ogata Kōrin and his brother, making copies of their compositions. Painted in bright, un-shaded colours, this screen, comprising four leaves painted with running water, plants and flowers that represent the cycle of the four seasons, is characterised by its realism and highly refined sense of beauty.

The Rimpa School

The Rimpa School coincided with a lengthy period of cultural isolation in the history of Japan, extending from the mid-seventeenth century to the start of the reign of the Emperor Meiji in 1868 when Japan once again opened up to foreign artistic trends. Together with ukiyo-e prints, the works of this school had an enormous influence on the japonisme movement in the West from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards.

The term Rimpa (or Rinpa) derives from the combination of the last syllable of Kōrin’s name and the world ha (converted into pa), which means school. It was used to describe a highly sophisticated decorative style initiated by the painter Tawaraya Sōtatsu in the early seventeenth century and was continued by the Kōrin brothers in the next century. It is characterised by a use of defined outlines and striking combinations of colours and had a notable influence on painting on silk, screens, fans, ceramics, lacquer and ritual objects. It also influenced literature and traditional Japanese theatre. Almost a hundred years later, around 1800, Sakai Hōitsu created his works in homage to Ogata Kōrin.

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