Exhibition | Painting Edo

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 20, 2020

Tawaraya Sōri, Autumn Maple Trees, painted screen, second half of the eighteenth century
(Feinberg Collection, TL42147.39)

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Press release (3 February 2020) for the exhibition:

Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection
Harvard Art Museums, 14 February — 18 July 2021

Curated by Rachel Saunders and Yukio Lippit

Beginning February 14, 2020, the Harvard Art Museums present Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection, a special exhibition of more than 120 of the finest works from the preeminent collection of Robert S. (Harvard class of 1961) and Betsy G. Feinberg; the exhibition runs through July 26, 2020. Painting Edo offers a window onto the supremely rich visual culture of Japan’s early modern era and explores how the Edo period (1615–1868), and the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), expressed itself during a time of artistic renaissance. A striking array of paintings in all the major formats will be on display—hanging scrolls, folding screens, sliding doors, fan paintings, and woodblock-printed books, among others—from virtually every stylistic lineage of the era, telling a comprehensive story of Edo painting on its own terms.

Painting Edo, organized by the Harvard Art Museums, is co-curated by Rachel Saunders, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art at the Harvard Art Museums, and Yukio Lippit, the Jeffrey T. Chambers and Andrea Okamura Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. The exhibition will be on view exclusively at the Harvard Art Museums; an illustrated publication by Saunders and Lippit accompanies the show.

Painting Edo is one of the largest exhibitions ever presented at the Harvard Art Museums—and fittingly so, since the Feinberg Collection is one of the largest gifts of art ever promised to this institution,” said Martha Tedeschi, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museums. “We are immensely grateful to the Feinbergs, whose great care and vision will ensure that the beauty and material ingenuity of these works reach viewers today and for generations to come.”

Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg generously promised their collection of more than 300 works of Japanese art to the Harvard Art Museums in 2013. Judiciously assembled over nearly fifty years, the collection—the finest private collection of Edo period Japanese painting in the United States—offers an exceptional opportunity to explore continuities and disruptions in artistic practice in early modern Japan. The museums’ stewardship of the collection ensures access by students, faculty, scholars, and the public, and allows for teaching, research, and further documentation of these important works.

The Feinberg Collection is notable not only for its size and remarkable quality, but also for its comprehensiveness. It comprises representative paintings from virtually every stylistic lineage of the era: from the gorgeous decorative works of the Rinpa School to the luminous clarity of the Maruyama-Shijō School, from the monochromatic indexes of interiority of so-called Nanga, or Southern School, painting to the actors and courtesans of the pleasure quarters depicted in ukiyo-e, to the inky innovations of the so-called eccentrics. A complete catalogue of the Feinberg Collection will be published by the museums in late summer 2020.

Over the last five years, since the museums reopened in 2014, select objects from the Feinberg Collection have been on display in extended thematic installations in the East Asian gallery on Level 2. The rotating presentation of these works was designed not only to introduce strengths of the collection to visitors, but also to broaden access for teaching and research. These initial installations provided a preview of the amazing range of works now united in the powerhouse Painting Edo exhibition.

“I had the pleasure of meeting the Feinbergs and viewing their collection for the first time in the late 1990s while I was a student,” said Professor Lippit. “That experience gave me an appreciation for the study of new objects and cultural histories, and since becoming a faculty member at Harvard I have been actively teaching with the Feinberg Collection, inviting students to view and discuss the paintings.”

Painting Edo begins in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on Level 3 and expands into three adjacent galleries typically reserved for installations that support university coursework. This is the first time the museums mount a single exhibition across all four spaces. Visitors are greeted by Tani Bunchō’s Grasses and Moon (1817), a large painting that encapsulates the Japanese tradition of moon-viewing, before being immediately enveloped by Sakai Hōitsu’s Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months (c. 1820–28), a stunning group of 12 hanging scrolls that together create a paradisal garden in which all the seasons flower simultaneously. From this introductory gallery, visitors are encouraged to wander at will to discover the major schools and styles of painting. Galleries are organized to reflect Edo period conceptions of lineage, offering a view of how “Edo” was articulated by and for its own creators and consumers.

“The Feinbergs have collected so carefully and with such dedication over the years that they have formed a truly comprehensive collection,” said Saunders. “That is particularly significant for us as a teaching museum because it allows us to look at the whole gamut of Edo painting within the exhibition, including virtually every major lineage and painting format.”

Additional Highlights

• Maruyama Ōkyo’s Peacock and Peonies (1768), a hanging scroll with a resplendent peacock rendered with Western-style anatomical precision against a luxuriant background of peonies [Intro section]

A Portuguese Trading Ship Arrives in Japan (17th century), a pair of six-panel folding screens that depicts the arrival of a ship into port and the procession of its captain into town, an annual voyage made by the Portuguese to trade silver, silks, and spices [Floating Worlds section]

• Tawaraya Sōri’s Autumn Maple Trees (second half 18th century), one of only a handful of works that survive by the artist and widely regarded as his masterpiece [School of Kōrin section]

• Ikeno Taiga’s The Poet Su Shi and Meng Jia Loses His Hat (18th century), a pair of six-panel folding screens depicting two renowned figures in acts of elegant disregard for societal norms [Eccentricity section]

Lotus in Autumn (1872), a wildly brushed hanging scroll by the female artist Okuhara Seiko, whose Chinese-style ink paintings became hugely popular in the years immediately following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, a time that ushered in Japan’s modern era [Remembering Edo section]

• Twenty fans by Suzuki Kiitsu, displayed against a deep blue backdrop, evoking the moment at the end of summer when Japanese men and women would cast their used fans into the river in celebration of the arrival of autumn [Remembering Edo section]

A rotation of select exhibition objects will take place between May 4 and 7 to preserve light-sensitive works as well as to add other fine examples of painting. Galleries will remain open to the public on these dates.


Two catalogues will be released in conjunction with the exhibition, both published by the Harvard Art Museums and distributed by Yale University Press. The first, Painting Edo: Selections from the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art, is a companion to the exhibition; it offers a sweeping and lavishly illustrated overview of a transformative era in Japanese art-making as told through superb examples from the finest private collection of Edo period painting in the United States. It includes essays by Rachel Saunders and Yukio Lippitt. The second book, a comprehensive Catalogue of the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art, will be published in late Summer 2020. Edited by Rachel Saunders, the volume includes new photography and commentary from a range of authors on each of the more than 300 works in the Feinberg Collection.

Rachel Saunders and Yukio Lippit, Painting Edo: Selections from the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art (Cambridge: Harvard Art Museums, 2020), 180 pages, ISBN: 978-030025089, $35.

Rachel Saunders, ed., Catalogue of the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art (Cambridge: Harvard Art Museums, 2020), 264 pages, ISBN: 978-0300250909, $65.

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