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[87] - In the not very distant day when we shall receive envoys and contributions from the inhabitants of Mars (notwithstanding their lack of an atmosphere, according to the latest dictum of the astronomers) to our own international expositions, these exhibits will probably not differ very much more from our own than do those of the Empire of Japan in the present Chicago show. Notwithstanding all the familiarity bred by long acquaintance with these products from beyond the seas, the European or the American who enters these galleries after sufficently exploring the others, from Chili to Siberia, recognizes at once a new order of things and a new world. So complete is the change that the Exposition authorities abandoned at once the system of classification which holds good everywhere else and allowed these antipodes to confound things according to their own ideas. This air of having come from somewhere beyond the stars is not diminished by the presence of those inevitable qualities which are common both to the Martians and to ourselves, and which are laboriously brought out by the historians of Japanese art seeking to establish a common humanity. Thus, the half-mythical Zeuxis or Apollodorus, of whom nothing remains but legends, is represented by the Japanese Inshiraga, who [88] lived in the latter part of the fifth century of our epoch; the Raphael of this art may be Kose Kanaoka, his Leo X. the Emperors Yosei and Ouda, in the last years of the ninth century, his Sistine Madonna is represented by the god Foudo - whose portrait is still preserved in the temple of Daiyouji, at [Tokyo], - his loggias of the Vatican, the panels which he painted for the sisinden, the hall of audience, of the imperial palace. The Augustan age, or that of Louis XIV., is represented by the period in which Genroken flourished, from 1688 to 1704; the foreign influences which came in to modify or debase the national art were those of China and Persia; the end of the Renaissance was marked by the revolution of 1868; the period of the Decadence is that since this date, etc., etc. These similarities and coincidences are frequently most unduly insisted upon by the Japanese enthusiasts, - thus M. Louis Gonse finds the piety and the suavity of Fra Angelico in a kakemono painting of the god of benevolence, Dzijo, on a lotus flower, by Kanaoka, and the movement and the foreshortening of Napoleon's white horse in Meissonier's "1814" in another kakemono, by Tosa Mitsounobou. In fact, much as the specialists and the art critics will go off into dissertations and expositions upon the superlative quality of the Martial art, so have the writers on Japanese art found in this strange, decorative, manifestation not only all the admirable qualities which it really possesses, but also a good many others to which it can lay no claim.

The Chicago exhibit is said to be the largest and finest which this country has ever made outside of its own borders, and, as we have said, it was thought best, in order to secure the happiest artistic effect, not to separate the different groups of the classification. Hence we find what would elsewhere be paintings, sculpture, carvings, ceramics and textile fabrics, all presented together, with a resulting effect as strange as it is admirable. The main purpose kept in view in bringing together this collection is understood to have been the rectification of the popular errors concerning the art of the empire, the demonstration that those products which we have been in the habit of ignorantly admiring as the finest and best are in reality only the baser products of the later days, and to set forth before our eyes a choice collection of those in which no element of the purely commercial, or of the deteriorating European influence, may be found. It is this later and baser art, in all its branches, which the collectors now assert to have in it nothing which can appeal either to our eyes or to our imagination. With this object in view, not only are many examples of the elder work shown but, in the porcelains especially, there are many attempts to reproduce some of the masterpieces of these lost arts. A pair of vases, by Miyagawa, in solid color porcelain, ornamented with reproductions of characteristic examples of the various kinds of old Japanese and Chinese pottery, undertakes to give a historical review of the art; a collection of no less than a hundred varieties of solid color porcelain represents the fruit of ten years of study and labor by Takemoto, in the effort to revive the ancient and perished arts of China and Japan, and, the catalogue tells us, cost the artist his life; a collection of forty pieces of decorated Kioto earthenware, exhibited by Hayashi, represent an attempt to revive the lost art by Tozan, under the instruction and design of the exhibitor.

It is most especially in this branch of ceramics that, we are now assured, we have been most completely misled. All those examples of Japanese porcelains, decorated in blue or in blue, red and gold, known as "old [89] Hizen" and with which the Dutch inundated Europe in the course of the last century, have no value whatever in the eyes of the Japanese connoisseurs. It is in their potteries, especially those dating from the time of Ninsei, the greatest ceramic artist of his nation, who died at Kioto about 1660, that these islanders truly manifest their superiority. All the great Japanese collections of the museums of Leyden, of Dresden and of the Hague, which contain thousands of examples of the Hizen ware do not possess of of Koutaini, of Kioto, of Satsouma, of Bizen or of Owari, says M. Gonse, - that is to say, not one piece that demonstrates the originality and true excellence of the Japanese ceramic art. It is the same, he declares, as omitting in a history of French ceramics all mention of Rouen, of Nevers, of Moustiers and of the pates tendres of Sevres.

The entrance to these galleries, opening out of the great West Court of the Fine Arts Building, is flanked and adorned with examples of the wide-ranging art of sculpture, figures in wood, in ivory, in bronze, and great bronze reliefs in which the national art perhaps finds its most characteristic development. Marble, as is well known, is not used or not to be found in these islands, and the carver in wood there attains his fullest development. One of these entrance figures is a large and formidable statuette in wood of a terrifying wrestler, by Yamadi, and by Keiske Niwa is an extraordinary model of the Yasaka Pagoda, complete in all its parts, with another model showing the details of the construction; on a pedestal in the centre of Section No. I, is a wonderful carving in cherry wood, by Takamra, of an old monkey, considerably larger than life, amusing himself with some eagle feathers which he has found. Fancy an European sculptor of repute staking his reputation and labor on such a theme! On a pedestal in the centre of Section No. 2, is a marvelous bronze by Otake, thus judiciously catalogued, "A Cock with a long tail on a Plum Tree, beneath which are a Hen and Little Chickens." All the details of this feathered group, the life, the spirit, are rendered in the metal as no European sculptor could. On a pedestal in the East Court is a life-size statue in wood, very carefully painted, multitudinous in detail, by [90] Kyuichi Takeuchi, of Gigeiten, of a Buddhist mythological personage, name not given, reproduced in our illustration. Here the outlandish art still appeals to us, we see in addition to the extraordinary technical skill in rendering detail of the artist, a mysterious, uneasy life in his figure - not at all that which we have been in the habit of meeting in mythological personages, but undoubtedly there, as may be seen very clearly by looking at the face in our illustration.

Still more stongly are we impressed by the bronze dragons in relief in the clouds over the water, at the West Court entrance, by Okazaki Sessei, which may partly be seen in miniature in our illustration of the entrance. The life, the fury, the reality, of these monsters, appearing and disappearing in the solid metal as in the viewless air, is almost beyond comprehension. Still more here is the fire of the artist's imagination, his creative power seconded by his technical skill. The same sculptor, one of the most distinguished of his nation, the greatest bronze caster of the National art school, is also represented by a large bronze relief, wonderful in workmanship, of the full-length figure of Benten, the Japanese goddess of music, playing upon a curious kite-shaped lute with four strings and enormous tuning keys at the end of the handle. We cannot but think that the admiration which Mr. Fenollosa expresses for this work springs rather from the point of view of the bronze caster than of the artist." Its extreme beauty and richness of line," he says, "render it the most notable contribution to sculpture of recent years. Okazaki has here far surpassed in originality and purity of design all previous efforts. Taking the simpler bronze reliefs of the Nara school of the seventh century as his starting-point, he has invested them with a wealth of line structure suggested by the Tosa religious paintings of the thirteenth, fusing both elements into a splendid original impression of the "Goddess of Music," so perfectly in accord with the laws of low relief in bronze as to make this work the Japanese analogue of the purest period of the corresponding fifteenth-century Italian art."

Among the paintings there are a few examples of the modern desire to compete with the Western nations in the field of realistic painting, as in the two pictures by Chiutato Ando, one of which, his "CHERRY FLOWER SIGHT-SEERS," is reproduced in the textual illustrations, but in the great majority may be recognized "the special gifts of pure and delicate design" and color. The distance between the two schools, or conceptions, may be distinctly seen by comparing with this work the large painting by Koyko Tanigchi, "A CHERRY BLOSSOM PICNIC IN THE MIDDLE AGES," also reproduced for these pages, [91] though, indeed, the wealth and harmony of delicate and beautiful color in the latter cannot be even suggested by the black and white reproduction. Even more admirably representative of the true genius of this art, it seems to us, are such paintings as the two here illustrated, the fight between a kite and a crow, by Kishi Chikdo, and the monkey fleeing from an eagle, by Keinen Imao. The former is rendered an ineffable gray tones, deep and translucent, against which the sudden black of the discomfited crow is like a cry. In the second, the extraordinary softness and quality of the monkey's fur is a triumph of technical rendering, which excites our admiration almost as much as the pure decorative success of the whole.

Quite another mood of Nature is that which breathes so softly through the stillness and silence of Hobun Kikchi's painting of white herons at the foot of a pine tree and in the water, - a quiet that is so complete and so beautiful that we cannot decide whether it is not owing to some subtle artistic power in the painter and not at all to his unfailing instinct in the decorative disposal of form and color. Before this work of art we all speak a common language, - when we come to Tanshin Tsulzawa's lady of the old Chinese court before her mirror, or, still more so, to Shibataro Kawada's cloisonne of "Hotei and a Child," we begin to be distracted by suggestions of the alien or by technical enthusiasms for method and value of material, as Mr. La Farge suggests. And yet the pretty, feminine action of the Chinese lady, feeling for her back hair, and the backward and forward action of her body and limbs under her loose drapery, are excellently suggested. Hotei, we are informed, is one of the seven gods of fortune, and this work has been both medaled and sold since the galleries opened. Even in our textual illustration the reader may admire the serene amiability of the paunchy, bald divinity, balancing himself so mysteriosly in the air, and the exceeding naturalness of the infant's irreverent pointing finger, - "I see you there!"

Among these curiously intelligent animal studies, so informed with the breath of life, two of the most eminently representative are, a group of fowls, life size, on a cart in the snow, by Watanabe Seitei, and the very striking "Tigress," by Kishi Chikdo, both in color; the latter the painter [92] of our kite and crow battle and the grandson of Japan's most celebrated animal painter, Ganku. Mr. Fenollosa tells us that the latter conscientiuos artist executed for this exhibition no less than four tigers, all of which he destroyed as unsatisfactory, before this one, and only completed this at the cost of temporary mental derangement, his prolonged absorption in his conception having induced the illusion that he was himself a tiger. As a hardy and original decorative arrangement in design and color, evolved by a most careful study of nature, the group of chickens on their cart is worthy our most surprised admiration. The subtle and luminous Japanese color lends itself very unwillingly to reproduction, and the largest paintings, landscapes and historical scenes, the latter frequently battle scenes, crowded with figures, all curiously novel and interesting, can, unfortunately, not be translated in any artistic shape.

Among the metal work, the twelve falcons in bronze and enamel, a combination of sculpture, casting and patina, the result of four years' labor we are told, that have lately been set up on their handsome perch in the second floor of the West Court, are quite worthy the popular admiration which they excite. Of the embroideries, a chapter might be written, notwithstanding the comparative scarcity of those less worthy examples elsewhere so frequently displayed, in which the commercial element has not been neglected.

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Last Updated: February 16, 1999