December 23, 2010
February 20, 2011
The Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery (21)
Shibata Zeshin was born and raised in Edo (Tokyo) at the beginning of the 19th century—the dawn of Japan’s emergence as a modern nation state. A master painter, lacquer designer, and woodblock print designer, he attempted to revitalize traditional art at a time of dramatic social transformation.
Zeshin’s family, hailing from coastal Echigo Province (Niigata Prefecture), specialized in wood-carving. His father, Ichigorö, reputedly studied painting under Katsukawa Shunshö (1726-92), founder of the Katsukawa School of ukiyo-e and also teacher to the legendary Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
Zeshin’s path to becoming one of Japan’s most renowned lacquer designers started with studying under Koma Kansai II (1766-1835), the tenth-generation head of a lacquer studio that had served the Tokugawa shogunate since 1636. Zeshin’s influences came from a wide range of sources, including visits to Kansai-region temples, such as the famed Shösöin repository in Nara, where he researched ancient lacquerware. Additionally, he learned methods employed by such illustrious predecessors as Hon’ami Köetsu (1558-1637) and Ogata Körin (1658-1716). After completing his studies, Zeshin reinvented many lacquer techniques and styles. Also an accomplished painter, he applied his lacquer innovations to painting, creating unusual works called urushi-e (lacquer paintings), in which he used lacquer makie (“sprinkled-design”) on paper.
As part of the Shijö-Maruyama School, where he trained in painting during the 1820s and 1830s in Edo and Kyoto, Zeshin’s teachers included Watanabe Nangaku (1763-1813), considered to be one of Maruyama Ökyo’s ten best pupils. Under Watanabe, Zeshin studied decorative naturalism, which required a close observation of plants and animals, an influence that was especially evident in his woodblock print designs.
This exhibition will display approximately 30 prints from the Academy’s Zeshin collection, many of them donated by Mr. and Mrs. James E. O’Brien and Drs. Edmund and Julie Lewis. The exhibition also will include works in other media, reintroducing Zeshin as one of the preeminent Japanese designers of the early modern period. —SAWAKO TAKEMURA CHANG, ASSISTANT CURATOR OF JAPANESE ART & ROBERT F. LANGE FOUNDATION DIGITAL IMAGING MANAGER