Shōkadō Shōjō, calligraphy; Tawaraya Sōtatsu, painting; Waka Poem by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, One of the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals, early 17th century
Shōkadō Shōjō (Japanese, 1584–1639), calligraphy; Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died 1643), painting, Waka Poem by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, One of the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals, early 17th century, shikishi mounted as a hanging scroll, ink on gold- and silver-decorated paper. Courtesy of Mary and Cheney Cowles, L2017.67.4
Yosa Buson, Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain (detail), early to mid-1770s
Yosa Buson (Japanese, 1716–1783), Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain (detail), early to mid-1770s, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk. Courtesy of Mary and Cheney Cowles, L2017.67.39

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art

Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles

OCT 13, 2018 – JAN 13, 2019

Poetry lies at the heart of Japanese culture. Since ancient times, artists in Japan have expressed the most profound emotions and the most nuanced responses to the human condition in verse. The ability to turn a phrase has been a mark of social status, a way to woo a lover, and a means to express shared heritage and values. The more than one hundred works in this exhibition illuminate how poetry—in both Japanese and Chinese—has taken visual form in Japan. Drawn from one of the finest private collections in North America, the paintings and calligraphy in Poetic Imagination span from the eighth through the twentieth century and represent courtly, Buddhist, and literati spheres of artistic activity. Most of them are unveiled to the public for the first time here.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are:

  • An extremely rare fragment of a Buddhist sutra written in silver on indigo paper, created at Tōdaiji Temple (mid-8th century)
  • A delicate ink drawing of an imagined encounter between two ancient poets, made during the Kamakura period (1185–1333)
  • A dramatic portrayal of Chinese Daoist immortal Fei Zhangfang summoning his dragon, by Sesson (1504–1589?)
  • A pair of hauntingly evocative landscapes of the Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang by Iwasa Matabei (1578–1650)
  • A poem-painting collaboration by Shōkadō Shōjō (1584–1639) and Tawaraya Sōtatsu (died 1643), two geniuses of the early 17th century
  • Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain, a painted tribute to the joys of reclusion, by Yosa Buson (1716–1783)
  • A whimsical exploration of tea, wine, books, ghost stories, and other obsessions of the artist Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924)

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art is accompanied by a catalogue presenting new research by an international group of distinguished scholars. Lively and diverse public and school programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition, including a lecture by curator Maribeth Graybill; a public symposium and scholars’ day in December 2018; and a variety of educational programs.

Organized by the Portland Art Museum. Curated by Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D., The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, with Jeannie Kenmotsu, Ph.D., Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art, and Sangah Kim, Cowles Curatorial Fellow in Asian Art.

Supported in part by Mary and Cheney Cowles, The Japan Foundation, the Asian Art Council of the Portland Art Museum, The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Donald Jenkins Fund for Visiting Scholars, Christie’s, the Mildred Schnitzer Memorial Fund, The Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies, Exhibition Series Sponsors.

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