Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)

Masterpieces demonstrate the continuation of an old Japanese tradition

Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)

Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)

A German version of this posting you can find here.
Eine deutsche Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier.

If you are looking for a place that allows you dive into the world of “nihonga” (日本画 / にほんが) at its finest, here is where you’ll find your haven: At the Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館 / やまたねびじゅつかん). And since the emphasis of the museum’s collections is on the masterpieces of the renowned artist Gyoshū Hayami (速水御舟 / はやみぎょしゅう) (the museum owns 120 of his works of art), it is also nicknamed “The Gyoshū Museum”.

You don’t know what “nihonga” is? You’ve never heard of it? Well, then it is high time to close this gap in your knowledge. Even if paintings are usually not your key interest – believe me: Nihonga will amaze you!

In a nutshell, “nihonga” is the continuation of a time-honoured Japanese painting tradition that nurtures traditional artistic conventions as well as materials and painting techniques, but also embraces influences of modern times. Even though “nihonga” has its root in the oldest arts of painting in Japan (dating back more than thousand years), this „category“ was created only about 150 years ago to distiguish the Japanese style paintings (nihonga / 日本画 / にほんが) from the Western style paintings (yōga / 洋画 / ようが). At that time, during the Meiji Restoration, some artists and art lovers saw the danger that traditional Japanese skills and aesthetic concepts could dwindle away in those times of infatuation with Western culture. Hence, these years saw a strong movement to preserve distinctly Japanese arts – which are, again, revived in our days.

So what sets nihonga apart from other painting categories? Even though there are some “grey zones” (i.e. overlaps with other styles), the following characteristic elements could be mentioned:

  1. Colours are largely based on minerals (e.g. shells, but also semi-precious stones).
  2. Paintings are predominantly applied on Japanese paper (washi / 和紙 / わし) and silk.
  3. While older techniques avoided shadows and perspectives, some “nihonga” adopt these more “Western” aspects, at least to some extent.

And even though there might be other places that also show remarkable exhibits of nihonga, the Yamatane Museum of Art is probably the place that makes it easiest to learn more about it. It is Japan’s first museum to specialise in nihonga, opened in July 1966 in Tokyo. It has an own collection encompassing remarkable works of art (even some “Important Cultural Properties” / 重要文化財 / じゅうようぶんかざい) and displays them all in a state of the art environment.

I was lucky enough to be able to participate in a special event at the museum that was held for bloggers and let me enjoy a guided tour of the current exhibition provided by the director of the Yamatane Museum of Art, Dr. Taeko Yamazaki (the granddaughter of the founder of the museum).

The current exhibition (8 October – 4 December 2016) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the museum foundation and runs under the title “The Destruction and Creation of Nihonga – Hayami Gyoshū: A Retrospective” (速水御舟の全貎 -日本画の破壊と創造). It offers a representative display of the great nihonga master’s oeuvre, from his early days of painting until his much too early death, divided into the following sections (please click on the miniatures to enlarge and enjoy further details):

I. The Start: Out of the Painting School

II. Mastering the Depiction of Textures

III. From Dancing in the Flames to Camellia Petals Scattering – Taking the Classics to New Heights

#36 Figs (天仙果)
(Colour on Paper, 1926)

#37 Clams (蛤)
(Colour on Gold-Leafed Silk, 1927)

#39 Two Horses in Autumn (秋天清高)
(Colour on Silk, 1928)

#41 Green Plums (青梅)
(Colour on Gold Ground on Paper, 1929)

#42 Camellia Petals Scattering (名樹散椿)
(Colour on Gold Ground on Paper, 1929)

#44 Red Plum Blossoms and White Plum Blossoms (紅梅・白梅)
(Colour on Silk, 1929)

IV. A Trip to Europe and New Challenges after Returning to Japan

Experiencing Europe

#45 Rows of Houses along the Arno, Florence (Sketch) (フィレンツェアルノの河岸の家並 (写生))
(Ink and Light Colour on Paper, 1930)

#46 Natta Street (Sketch) (ナッタ街 (写生))
(Ink and Light Colour on Paper, 1930)

#47 Landscape with Tower (Sketch) (塔のある風景 (写生))
(Ink and Light Colour on Paper, 1930)

#51 Ruins of Olympia (オリンピアス神殿遺址)
(Colour on Paper, 1931)

#52 Natives Engaged in Irrigation Work in Egypt (埃及土人ノ灌漑)
(Colour on Silk with Goldleaf on Reverse, 1931)

#53 In Egypt (エジプト所見)
(Colour on Paper, 1931)

Rendering the Human Figure

#55 Korean Ladies of the Night, from the Korean Women Series (青丘婦女抄カルボ)
(Colour on Silk, 1933)

#56 Female Nude (Drawing 3) (裸婦 (素描3))
(Conte on Paper, 1933)

#57 The Priest Nichiren (Copy) (日蓮上人像 (模写))
(Colour on Paper, 1934)

New Developments and Bird-and-Flower Paintings

#58 Pea Flowers (豆花)
(Colour on Paper, 1931)

#59 Chrysanthemums (阿蘭陀菊図)
(Colour on Silk, 1931)

#61 Album of Sketches II (写生帖2)
(Pencil and Colour on Paper, 1932)

#62 Crane (鶴)
(Ink and Colour on Silk, 1932)

#63 Spring Deepens (春地温)
(Colour on Paper, 1933)

#65 Camellias (椿ノ花)
(Colour on Paper, 1933)

#66 Dawn and Spring Evening (あけぼの・春の宵)
(Colour on Paper, 1934)

#68 Peonies (牡丹)
(Colour on Silk, 1934)

#71 White Confederate Roses (白芙蓉)
(Ink and Colour on Paper, 1934)

#72 Peonies (Sketch 5) (牡丹 (写生5))
(Pencil and Colour on Paper, 1934)

#73 Poppies (Sketch 2) (芥子 (写生2))
(Pencil and Colour on Paper, 1934)

#76 Cymbidium Orchid (Sketch) (蘭 (写生))
(Colour on Paper, 1934)

While the exhibition is largely based on the Yamatane Museum’s own collection, it also includes specimen coming from other notable sources (e.g, the Tōkyō National Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tōkyō, the Museum of Modern Art in Shiga, the Okada Museum of Art in Hakone).

The photos you can see in this posting are part of the Gyoshū retrospective mentioned above (and thanks to a special permission I was able to take pictures of selected parts of the exhibition). Unfortunately, some of the most exquisit exhibits are protected by copyrights and could not be photographed – but I guess, also the examples displayed here will give you an impression of what “nihonga” means and why Gyoshū Hayami is one of the most praised representatives of this genre.

What’s much more important: There is no way photographs of these works of art can give you the “complete picture”. You have to see the originals, their amazing colours, the delicacy of detail and, most of all, the textures of the materials used.

But who was this Gyoshū Hayami?
He was born as Eiichi Makita (蒔田栄一 / まきいたえいいち) into the rather humble home of a pawnbroker in Tōkyō’s Asakusa (浅草 / あさくさ) district on 2 August 1894.

When he was 14 years old he began studying at the Angadō Painting School (安雅堂画塾) and was given the art name “Kako” (禾湖 / かこ). While the school mainly emphasised on making copies of works of art, he soon distinguished himself from others by making his own sketches. Already at the tender age of 17 one of his paintings was bought by the Imperial Household Ministry. He became acquainted with Shikō Imamura (今村紫紅 / いまむらしこう), joined the Kōjikai (紅児会 / こうじかい) art circle and re-named himself to “Kōnen” (浩然 / こうねん).

To add a bit to the naming confusion: In 1909 he had been adopted by his mother’s mother, but continued to officially use his old family name. When he turned 20 he finally changed his family name from “Makita” to “Hayami” and at the same time chose his artist name “Gyoshū” (money laundering was obviously no issue in those days). But he selected that new name rather thoughtfully, as it was an allusion to Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s (俵屋宗達 / たわらやそうたつ) (a Japanese artist of the early 17th century) “Scenes from the Sekiya and Miotsukushi Chapters of the Tale of Genji Folding Screens” (紙本金地著色源氏物語関屋及澪標図 / しほんきんじちゃくしょくげんじものがたりせきやおよびみおつくしず) (a “National Treasure”, Seikado Art Museum).

While throughout his career he made it a point that the traditional ways of Japanese painting need to be fostered, he also embraced new methods, new materials and ways to “look at things” and express them in a traditional manner. A longer trip to Europe he undertook in 1930 had broadened his horizon additionally. Sadly, he contracted typhoid fever and suddenly passed away in 1935 – just 40 years old.

For good reason his most famous painting, the “Dance of Flames” (or “Dancing in the Flames”) (炎舞 / えんぶ), was selected as the image picture for the current exhibition, as it is the most vivid example for Gyoshū’s combination of traditional elements and modern styles. It is a registered “Important Cultural Property” (重要文化財 / じゅうようぶんかざい) of Japan. Have a look at the photograph below – and keep in mind: The original is many times more impressive!

#29 Dancing the Flames (Dance of Flames) (炎舞)
(Colour on Silk, 1925)

Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)

Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)

Address of the Museum:

Yamatane Museum of Art
3-12-36 Hiro-o, Shibuya-ku
Tōkyō 150-0012



Opening hours of the Museum:

Open daily, except on Mondays (closed on the day after a national holiday) from 10:00 am to  5:00 pm (last admission at 4:30 pm).
Also closed during the New Year holidays (29 December – 2 January) and for exhibition installations.

Admission fees:

Regular Exhibitions:
Adults: 1,000 Yen (800 Yen per person for groups of 20 or more visitors)
University and high school students: 800 Yen (700 Yen per person for groups of 20 or more visitors)
Middle school and younger children: free of charge
Disability ID Holders and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.
If you want to see the same exhibition once again, bring along your (regular) ticket from your first visit and you well receive a “repeater discount”.

Special Exhibitions:
Admission fees vary according to each exhibition (e.g. the admission fee for the exhibition “The Destruction and Creation of Nihonga – Hayami Gyoshū: A Retrospective” is 1,200 Yen per adult). For further information refer to the museum’s website.

How to get there:

Take the lines of Japan Rail (JR) or the Tōkyō Metro Hibiya line to Ebisu (恵比寿 / えびす) and head in eastern direction towards the Meiji Dōri (明治通り / めいじどおり). Cross the Meiji Dōri in north-eastern direction and follow the right side of the street for some hundred metres (passing the “Ebisu Prime Square” and the impressive building of “Papas Company”).

And since you want to be a good citizen, here are some of the rules you want to adhere to, when you visit the Yamatane Museum of Art:

  • Do not touch the artworks and cases.
  • Hold the hand of young children.
  • Keep quite in the gallery.
  • Do not run in the gallery.
  • No photographing, video recording, or copying the artworks in the gallery.
  • When taking notes in the gallery, use pencils only – no pens, no ink.
  • Swith off your mobile phone in the gallery.
  • No eating or drinking in the gallery (that includes water, candy and chewing gums).
  • No smoking anywhere in the museum.

And if you are interested in “nihonga”, don’t miss the following:

Beautiful Women at the Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)
– Shōen Uemura and Quintessential “Bijinga” – Paintings of Beautiful Women

7 Responses to Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館)

  1. Fede says:

    Wow so interesting, I did not know this nihonga! These pictures look so different from the styles I know! They even painted Florence, so surprising xD I hope to be able to visit this place when I go back to Japan 😀

    • Thomas Gittel says:

      Yes, indeed! The Yamatane Museum of Art is definitely worth more than just a visit. These paintings are on the one hand so different from what we know from European painters, on the other hand, they are able to open a totally new way of looking at things, without being “strange” in any way. Even I was totally amazed at this exhibition.

      • Fede says:

        I will really have a look if I happen to have the chance! Unfortunately when I come to Japan this September, I will not visit tokyo and I will just stay for a few days but in the upcoming years, I really would like to visit more museums in japan and this will be included:D

  2. […] englische Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier. An English version of this posting you can find […]

  3. […] Yamatane Museum of Art (山種美術館) – Masterpieces demonstrate the continuation of an old Japanese tradition […]

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