Japanese Design: Rinpa

May 5–October 9, 2022


This exhibition explores the profound influence that Japanese design has had on international aesthetics. Compositional features such as asymmetry, innovative color combinations, contrasting patterns and semi-abstraction can be found across artistic movements and historical periods, but arguably their most perfect expression is in the Rinpa tradition.

Rinpa takes its name from artist Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), literally meaning “[Kō]rin School.” However, Rinpa did not begin with Kōrin, and it is not so much an organized school as a series of loosely associated artists. In fact, Rinpa-style design emerged a generation earlier as part of a cultural renaissance in the early seventeenth century. A new shogunate had recently stabilized Japan, and this encouraged the arts to flourish. Artists rediscovered their country’s rich cultural legacy, building upon historical foundations to introduce a new sense of aesthetics that infused artistry into all aspects of life, such as poetry, drinking tea, and garden design. This aesthetic can be seen in works throughout the exhibition—not only in the bold paintings of Tawaraya Sōtatsu (fl. c. 1600–1640), but also in the subtle tea bowl and poetic calligraphy of the master designer Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637).

Kōrin was an influential talent who built upon the foundations of these artists, bringing a fresh perspective to painting, as well as designs for fans, lacquerware, textiles, and ceramics. In turn, his stylish innovations evolved in new ways. Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828) and his student Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858) brought greater compositional clarity and more precise brushwork to the Rinpa style. The centerpiece of this exhibition is a unique screen with white chrysanthemums on gold painted by Kōrin on one side, and red maple leaves on silver painted by Hōitsu on the other, allowing us the rare opportunity to compare the works of these masters from different lifetimes side by side.

Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716)
Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828)
Chrysanthemums/Maple Tree
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), early 18th century
Two-fold screen; ink, color, gofun, gold and silver on paper
Gift of Mrs. Charles M. Cooke, 1927 (1592)