After nearly a century apart, Ogata Korin’s (1658-1716) two master works of screen paintings based on the Eight Bridges of the Tales of Ise are exhibited together at the Nezu Museum in Tokyo.
Generally regarded as the father of the Rinpa (School of Korin), Korin is regarded as a master painter and designer of the 17th and 18th centuries, responsible for something of a revolution in Japanese art and design in its move away from classic Chinese prototypes to the purely decorative. Rinpa design went through a major revival in the early 19th century with the re-publication and revision of Korin’s sketch books by Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828), a revival that continued into the Meiji Period (1868-1912) in the works of Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) and into the 20th century with the works of Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942). Rinpa works have always been highly regarded in the West as unique manifestations of the Japanese aesthetic.
Re-opened in 2009 after a major redesign, the Nezu Museum is built in the grounds of the former private residence of its founder, Mr Nezu Kaichiro (1860-1940), housing his personal collection of over 7500 objects. A connoisseur of chado, the Nezu collection is renowned for its tea pieces, and the garden is home to a number of chashitsu for the contemporary practice of tea. Of the many museums visited, Nezu stands out as the best marriage of external and internal architecture, of public and gallery space, and of professional and engaging display.
What of Korin’s screens? Dare I write it, dare I even think it– a little disappointing. The worldwide love affair with these iconic images has perhaps reduced them to overly familiar symbols and despite the luminosity of their paints, the patination of the gold and the obvious mastery of design…there was a sense, for me, of expectations not met. Certainly to see the two works side by side and in conjunction with a number of other Korin paintings, was a valuable academic experience. My wonder was, however, reserved for the garden and the integration of the museum therein.
Eight-Planked Bridge (Yatsuhashi)
Pair of six fold screens, color on gold-foiled paper
Edo period, 18th century
150.9 x 33.8 cm (each panel)