The reunification of three masterpieces by Utamaro Kitagawa
It does not happen every day that one receives an exclusive invitation to the opening of a new exhibition at a notable museum. However, all those who belong the the eager readers of this website are somehow “used to” reading about such events. After all, the “Museums & Exhibitions“-section the “Navigate by Topic“-navigation of this website shows quite a number of such events and placea, like those related to the Teien Art Museum, the Toguri Museum of Art and the Yamatane Museum of Art.
Shinagawa no tsuki (原寸大高精細複製画) 喜多川歌麿「品川の月」
原本：江戸時代 天明8年 (1788)頃 フリーア美術館蔵)
Yoshiwara no hana (喜多川歌麿「吉原の花」
江戸時代 寛政3～4年 (1791－1792)頃 ワズワース・アセーニアム美術館蔵)
Fukagawa no yuki (喜多川歌麿「深川の雪」
江戸時代 享和2～文化3年 (1802－06)頃 岡田美術館蔵)
On 27 July 2017 I had the opportunity to be present as a very special event, when the Okada Museum of Art (岡田美術館 / おかだびじゅつかん) showcased the triptych “setsugekka” (雪月花 / せつげっか), the probably most distingished masterpieces by Utamaro Kitagawa ( 喜多川歌麿 / きたがわうたまろ) (ca. 1753 – 1806), in a special exhibition. It was the first time since 1879 that these three paintings are being jointly presented to the public in Japan. We are talking about the following three grand works of art (please click the photos below to open them in a separate window and to enjoy more detail):
Shinagawa in the Moonlight (品川の月 / しながわのつき)
Painted about 1788
Dimensions: 147 x 319 cm
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., USA
Cherry Blossoms in Yoshiwara (吉原の花 / よしわらのはな)
Painted about 1791 – 1792
Dimensions: 186,7 x 256,9 cm
Wadsworth Athenum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, USA
The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund
Fukagawa in the Snow (深川の雪 / ふかがわのゆき)
Painted about 1802 – 1806
Dimensions: 198,8 x 341,1 cm
Okada Museum of Art
A group of about 100 representatives of the press, media and the tourist industry were welcomed by the director of the Okada Museum of Art, Mr. Tadashi Kobayashi (小林忠 / こばやしただし). Mr. Kobayashi is not only a recognised art historian, but also the president of the “Internation Ukio-e Society” and the author of quite a number of books on art and its history.
Tochigi (栃木 / とちぎ), the place where the three masterpieces were created, was represented by Mr. Toshimi Suzuki (鈴木俊美 / すずきとしみ), the mayor of the City of Toshigi, who also addressed the invited media- and tourist representatives.
The Artist: Utamaro Kitagawa (喜多川歌麿)
Utamaro Kitagawa is probably best known for his colourful woodblock prints. And among those, his pictures of beautiful women, created in the 90s of the 18th century, are certainly the most famous ones, even in our days. His pictures distinguish themselves from others of his time by displaying an unusual amount of emotions. However, the liberality and nudity of some of his pictures, for which he may be even more famous now, may not have shocked Utamaro Kitagawa’s contemporaries. The more negative labeling of pornography was something only Puritan visitors from the west attributed to his work, when they discovered it more than 50 years after the artist’s death.
Nevertheless, Utamaro Kitagawa and his work did come in conflict with the strict art rules of the Kansei reforms (1787 – 1793) when he dared to reproduce historical figures too clearly in his pictures. His imprisonment in 1804 represents one of the most infamous cases of censorship.
You may find yourself reminded on paintings by early French impressionists, when you see Utamaro Kitagawa’s pictures. And that should not come as a surprise: Hardly any other Japanese painter had such a comprehensive influence on their style.
Probably a little less known: It was an art collector and -dealer of German origin, who – almost 100 years after Utamaro Kitagawa – essentially promoted knowledge on East Asian art to the West (mainly the Americas and Europe): Siegfried Bing (26 February 1838 – 9 June 1905).
But let’s have a closer look at those extraordinary pieces of Japanese art of painting…
The Works of Art in Detail
Shinagawa in the Moonlight (品川の月 / しながわのつき)
The first (i.e. oldest) work of art in this collection is a bit out of the ordinary, becauses its owner, the Freer Gallery of Art, as a matter of principle, does not loan any of its exhibits to other museums (and also does not accept loans by other museums). In order to show the three masterpieces in Japan, there was no other choice but to intricately procude a full-scale replica of the work. The original can be seen at the Freer Gallery of Art (there, however, in a frame).
The scene is in the second-story reception room of the famous restaurant and geisha house in Shinagawa, known as Dozō Sagami (土蔵相模 / どぞうさがみ) for its unusual architecture, looks almost like a stage setting. There are 19 women in the scene, and – if you look closely – you will also discover the shadow of a man on one of the paper walls. There can be no doubt: This is an evening of pleasures and enjoyment.
Cherry Blossoms in Yoshiwara (吉原の花 / よしわらのはな)
On this second painting you can find – all together – 52 women and children, going to and fro the tea houses that line the main street in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters (the only ones approved by the government on the old days of Edo). The splendid garments of the courtesans vie with the beauty of the cherry blossoms in full bloom. In a second story room a group of samurai class women enjoy food and drink along with music and “flower hat dance” (花笠踊 / はながさおどり).
And there is another detail, the connoisseur may appreciate: In the tokonoma on the second floor (behind the musicians) a rather famous painting is depicted. It is the “Hotei with Chinese Children” by the popular Edo painter Itchō Hanabusa (英一蝶 / はなぶいっちょう) (1652 – 1724).
This second painting appears to be a satirical work poking fun at the sumptuary laws of the Kansei Reforms (寛政の改革 / かんせいのかいかく) of its days.
Fukagawa in the Snow (深川の雪 / ふかがわのゆき)
Here you can view the second story reception room of a large restaurant in Fukagawa, Edo’s premier geisha quarters. While some women in the scene are occupied with the preparation and distribution of food, the room is dominated by local geisha, known as tatsumi geisha (辰巳芸者 / たつみげいしゃ) in their gorgeous kimono. Have a closer look, and you will also find a child playing with a cat.
The trees in the inner courtyard are covered with snow. Utamaro Kitagawa presents a rich variety of genre scenes, from people looking out at the show to those gathered around a brazier escaping the cold to those immersed in a hand gesture game and another devoted to applying her makeup.
This painting was deemed to be lost for more than 60 years (rediscovered in February 2012). And only after cautious inspection and restoration it was to be seen again at the Okada Museum of Art in 2014.
There is one thing all three paintings have in common – in line with one of Utamaro Kitagawa’s own traditions – that also those scenes which would typically require the presence of men (it was men in the first place, who visited geisha houses for their entertainment), are being portayed by females only. If you know a little about the history of old Edo, you can tell from the attire of the persons in the pictures (by the way, it’s all together 99 persons), but also from kind of food that is being served, where the scene is being set. For example, the rather humble sole that is being served in Fukagawa, compared with the posh bream of Yoshiwara..
As the Japanese word “setsugekka” or “setsu getsu ka” (雪月花 / せつげっか) respectively suggests, the paintings are in line with a seasonal accord:
– “setsu” (雪 / せつ) = snow, i.e. winter
– “getsu” (月 / げつ) = moon, i.e. autumn
– “ka” (花 / か) = flower, i.e. spring
Obviously the sometimes extremely hot Japanese summer is – even for Japanese – so unbearable, that they just skip it (despite the fact that one very often is given the impression, that Japanese regard the joy and splendour of four seasons as something particular to their home country).
All three paintings were created in Tochigi (栃木 / とちぎ). And it was also there that they were exhibited together last in Japan in 1879. After that, their journey began, first to France (I have mentioned already the undeniable impact Utamaro Kitagawa’s oeuvre had on French impressionists), and finally the three paintings found their home in three collections stated above.
The Okada Museum of Art (岡田美術館)
In autumn 2013 this grand museum with its exquisit treasures and collections of Asian art was opened on the grounds of the former Kaikatei Hotel (開化亭ホテル / かいかていほてる) in Kowakudani (小涌谷 / こわくだに) in the Hakone region.
On a total building area of 7,700 sqm the museum offers state-of-the art exhibition rooms of a total floor space of about 5,000 sqm. This rather generous building houses mainly Japanese, Chinese and Korean works of art from ancient times to the present, collected by the business man Kazuo Okada (岡田和生) (according to the Forbes list one of the riches men in the world – having made his fortune with pachinko- and slot machines as well as casions).
The museum’s buildings are surrounded by beautiful gardens of about 15,000 sqm.
Of course, there is more to see at the Okada Museum of Art than those three gorgeous witnesses of old days – which will, by the way, only be on joint display until 29 October 2017 (don’t miss to see them side by side – a chance like this won’t come along anytime soon!) – but also rather impressive collections of fince porcelain, sculptures, scroll- and folding pictures from China, Korea and Japan. However, during the course of the press reception on 27 July 2017, these could only briefly be visited due to time constraints. Here are a few examples:
The Chocolate for the Exhibition
So to speak “suitable for the exhibition” the Japanese confiseur Naoki Miura (三浦直樹 / みうらなおき) created a collection of fine chocolate that treats the palate with eight different aroma combinations (tasting bits from left to right):
- gorgonzola / bacon
- purple potato / black sesame
- almond milk / dry apricot
- cream cheese / “berry rose”
- Japanese maron / matsutake (mushroom)
- pistachio / cinnamon
- white truffle / pumpkin
- yuzu / fresh basil
Those pralines, decorated with motives of the exhibition are being sold in sets of eight (4,800 Yen):
Relaxation for the feet, exhausted from the museum’s visit
Besides the gardens surrounding the museum, the fancy but cosy foot bath in black granite next to the entrance area of the main exhibition all, is quite an eye-catcher. The area of Hakone is particularly rich in natural hot spings. And here the thermal water will be soothing your worn-out feet at comfortable 40°C – while you can enjoy the view of Kotaro Fukui’s gigantic (12 x 30 metres) painting of the god of wind and the god of thunderstorm that is covering the complete main facade of the building (have a look at the picture at the top of this posting).
How to get there:
The most comfortable way to Hakone Yumoto (箱根湯本 / はこねゆもと) is taking the express trains “Romancecar” of the Odakyū line (小田急線 / おだきゅうせん) (they commute between Shinjuku and Hakone Yumoto). Travel time: about 90 minutes.
Should you wish to save a little money, and if time is not your prime issue, you may want to use the local and “normal” express trains of the Odakyū line.
If Japan Rail is your prime choice, go to Odawara station (小田原駅 / おだわらえき) which is also a shinkansen stop.
From Hakone Yumoto or Odawara respectively the Izu Hakone Bus brings right in front of the museum (bus-stop “Kowakien”) (about 20 minutes of travel time from Hakone Yumoto).
Daily from 9 am to 5 pm (last entry: 4:30 pm).
(The museum may be closed occasionally during exhibition changes.)
Adults and university students: 2,800 Yen
School studens (from elementary school): 1,800 Yen
There are discounts for groups of 10 and more people, disabled people and accomanying persons.
Parking lots and the foot washing are free of charge for visitors of the museum.
Visitors who wish to use the gardens and the foot washing only, may also use the museum’s parking lots – they will be charged 500 Yen after the first hour for every hour.
Admision fee for the garden: 300 Yen
Fee for the foot washing facilities: 500 Yen
Please observe that mobile phones, cameras and other recording devices of any kind may not be brought into the exhibition halls (lockers are available, free of charge).
One final word:
All photographs seen in this posting were taken with the Okada Museum of Art’s explicit and kind permission.
I wrote the name of the great artist Utamaro Kitagawa in the “Western” way: given name, family name. Usually, Utamaro Kitagawa is being referred to as simply “Utamaro”. But I didn’t want to be so presumptuous as to pretent I was on first name terms with the artist….