The Honolulu Museum of Art has one of the most important collections of Asian art in the United States. It consists of more than 23,000 objects by artists from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. Plus we have more than 10,000 Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Helping to keep track of it all is Robert F. Lange Foundation Japanese art research assistant Kiyoe Minami.
Minami—who was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan—started working at the museum in 2004, around the launch of the Robert F. Lange Foundation–funded project to digitize image the woodblock print collection and put it online. Minami dove headfirst into the longterm mission and among the first works that she came across was Kanō Eitoku’s screen painting Old Pine and Cherry Trees by Rocks. That worked left an impression on Minami, and 12 years on she explains why it is her favorite work in the permanent collection.
“When I started working here, we had just begun our digital imaging project, and we photographed this piece. I was kind of shocked, because it’s so dynamic compared to other Japanese screen paintings. I then found out that the artist—Kano Eitoku—was an official painter of the Ashikaga shogunate in the 16th century, and that he developed large-scale paintings for people like Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi [two of the most famous daimyo of the 16th century]. I learned later that this particular painting was meant to be displayed in a shogun’s castle, and that it was just the bottom one-fourth of what would have been a large wall painting. Now when I look at this piece, it makes me feel like I’m a shogun.”
Old Pine and Cherry Trees by Rocks is currently on view in the museum’s Japanese art gallery.