Now on view in Light from Shadow: Gold in Japanese Art is this glowing screen.
Learn more about it:
Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716)
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), early 18th century
Two-fold screen; ink, color, gofun, gold and silver on paper
Gift of Mrs. Charles M. Cooke, 1927
After Japan’s political center moved from Kyoto to Edo (modern Tokyo) in the early 17th century, many educated members of the Kyoto elite (which increasingly included not only the nobility and old families but also wealthy merchants) shifted their attention to cultural pursuits. A new sense of fashion (iki) reigned supreme, and the glitterati competed in lavish, dissolute lifestyles. Among them were artist Ogata Kōrin, who was known as much for his excessive spending and illegitimate children as for his talent. Kōrin first developed a reputation as a designer, and worked in a diverse variety of media that included fans, lacquer ware, and textiles. With his younger brother Kenzan (1663–1743), he also revitalized the Kyoto ceramics industry, and regularly provided designs for the vessels produced by Kenzan’s pottery studio. He didn’t seriously focus on painting until he was in his 40s, but once he got going, he created masterpieces that have since become among the best-known works of the mid-Edo period.
Kōrin elaborated upon the decorative style of painting that emerged in Kyoto during the early 17th century through such artists as Tawaraya Sōtatsu (fl. c. 1600–1640) and Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637; Kōetsu was Kōrin’s uncle-in-law), and in turn became a major influence on 19th-century artists such as Suzuki Kiitsu (see Flowering Plum and Camellia and Morning Glories and Gourds by Kiitsu, also on view in Light from Shadow). For this reason, these artists are grouped together by later historians into the Rinpa School, centering on Kōrin (rin comes from the second word in Kōrin’s name, pa means “school”).
Kōrin’s style is characterized by compositions constructed from semi-abstracted, repetitive motifs that are flatly painted with little sense of depth to emphasize their decorative arrangement. Different elements often are divided according to diagonals that undermine stability in favor of dynamism. In this case, an imaginary diagonal from the bottom right to the top left separates the painting into two sections, with chrysanthemums and grasses crowded into the upper/right section, and a bold use of empty space in the lower/left section. The latter allows the gold leaf to become a major decorative component in its own right, reiterated in the gold veining of the leaves in the opposing section. The autumn chrysanthemums on the front of the screen are paired with a corresponding autumn theme of a maple tree on the back. The arrangement of the composition on the back has been reversed, so that the maple tree is crowded into the lower/left section, while the upper/right section is empty to draw attention to the (now tarnished) silver leaf.