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Release Date: September 8, 2011

One of Japan's Most Celebrated Cultural Treasures―Colorful Realm of Living Beings by Itō Jakuchū―to be Seen in Its Entirety for the First Time Outside of Japan

Visitors enjoying "Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakachū" on opening day at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Photograph by D. Ziska © National Gallery of Art, Washington

Visitors enjoying Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakachū on opening day at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Photograph by D. Ziska © National Gallery of Art, Washington

Washington, DC―One of Japan's most renowned cultural treasures will come to Washington, DC, in celebration of the centennial of Japan's gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the nation's capital. Entitled Colorful Realm of Living Beings (J. Dōshoku sai-e; c. 1757–1766), this 30-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings on silk is the centerpiece of the landmark exhibition Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800), on view at the National Gallery of Art's West Building from March 30 through April 29, 2012. Exhibited for four weeks only (owing to their fragility), these works will be in Washington during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 20 through April 27, 2012.

Never before shown in its entirety outside of Japan, Colorful Realm of Living Beings provides a panoramic pictorial survey of flora and fauna, both mythical and actual, reflecting the highest standards of artistic and technical accomplishment in Japanese painting. To evoke the work's original religious context, the Gallery will install it with Jakuchū's Śākyamuni Triptych (The Buddha Śākyamuni, Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, and Bodhisattva Samantabhadra), which belongs to the Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji Monastery, Kyoto. In 1765 Jakuchū―who was active in Kyoto during the mid-Edo period―had donated Colorful Realm (then comprising 24 scrolls) and the triptych to Shōkokuji, where they were displayed in a large temple room during Buddhist rituals. Colorful Realm was donated to the Imperial Household in 1889; since then, it has been shown together with the triptych only once, in 2007 at the Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji.

Organization and Support

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, The Imperial Household Agency, and Nikkei Inc., in association with the Embassy of Japan.

It has been made possible through the generous support of Toyota, Nikkei Inc., Airbus, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and The Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art. Additional sponsorship from Japan has been provided by Daikin Industries, Ltd., Ito En, Ltd., Mitsubishi Corporation, and Panasonic Corporation. Additional support has been provided by the Asian Cultural Council.

It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

"The National Gallery of Art is deeply honored to present this exquisite set of 30 scrolls to visitors from around the world who will be in Washington for a very special National Cherry Blossom Festival," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "The Gallery has a long history of working closely with our Japanese colleagues to present important exhibitions, including The Tokugawa Collection: Noh Robes and Masks (1977); Japan: The Shaping of Daimyo Culture 1185–1868 (1988–1989); and Edo: Art in Japan 1615–1868 (1998–1999)."

"This is a great event to commemorate the centennial. These works are very popular and highly admired, but they are rarely exhibited even in Japan. I understand that this is the very first time that Colorful Realm of Living Beings will be shown in its entirety outside of Japan. This exhibition exemplifies our strong friendship. We Japanese are so grateful to Americans for showing solidarity and friendship with us after the Great Earthquake of March 11," said His Excellency Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador of Japan to the United States.

"The Japanese loan of a cultural treasure to the United States during the centennial celebration marks another watershed moment for Americans and Japanese. It honors the spirit of the original gift of cherry blossom trees from Japan in 1912, and emphasizes the importance of cross-cultural exchange and understanding. We are honored to have such an important exhibition as part of the 2012 Festival," said Diana Mayhew, president, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc.

Exhibition and Catalogue

Synthesizing numerous East Asian traditions of bird-and-flower painting, Colorful Realm depicts each of its 30 subjects in meticulous detail, but in such a way as to transcend surface appearances and capture the otherwise ineffable, vital essence of the cosmos, the Buddha nature itself. Recent conservation of the set has generated an entirely new awareness of its material profile and the technical means by which Jakuchū created each scroll. According to guest curator Yukio Lippit, professor of Japanese art, Harvard University, "It stands as one of the most virtuosic and visually dynamic―yet at the same time interiorized and distilled―expressions of the natural world in all of Japanese art."

Also included in the exhibition are the dedicatory inscription that Jakuchū wrote in 1765 when he donated Colorful Realm of Living Beings to Shōkokuji; the well-known calligraphy scroll praising it by the monk Kō Yūgai, also known as Baisa'ō (1675–1763)—both on loan from the Imperial Household Collection; and a handscroll showing the plan for the Jakuchū Room at the Japanese Pavilion in the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, in which Gobelin-weave tapestry replicas by Kawashima Jinbei (1853–1910) of the 30 Colorful Realm scrolls were displayed. The textile replicas were themselves destroyed when the ship conveying them home caught fire. The handscroll is being lent by the Kawashima Selkon Textiles Co., Ltd.

The 240-page, fully illustrated exhibition catalogue is being published in English by the National Gallery of Art in association with the Imperial Household Agency; it is being distributed by the University of Chicago Press. Edited by guest curator Yukio Lippit, the volume features entries on each of the 30 scrolls as well as essays by Lippit; Ōta Aya, senior curator, Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), Tokyo; Hayakawa Yasuhiro, head of analytical science section, National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo; and Oka Yasuhiro, head of the Oka Bokkōdō Conservation Studio, Kyoto. Informed by groundbreaking conservation discoveries and the most recent research on Jakuchū's life and cultural environment, this volume offers a multifaceted understanding of the artist's virtuosity and experimentalism as a painter—one who not only applied sophisticated chromatic effects but also masterfully rendered the richly symbolic world in which he moved.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Centennial Celebration

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is the nation's greatest springtime celebration. The 2012 Festival, March 20 – April 27, includes five spectacular weeks of events featuring diverse and creative programming promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty, and community spirit. The 2012 Festival commemorates the 100th anniversary of the gift of the cherry blossom trees and the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan.

General Information

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Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]
Anabeth Guthrie
Chief of Communications
(202) 842-6804
[email protected]

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