March 2005

Nanga: Japanese Literati Paintings

March 30­-April 6, 2005

Sebastian Izzard Asian Art LLC, in association with London Gallery Ltd., Tokyo, exhibited an impressive group of Japanese literati paintings during New York's Asia Week. Literati painting was the first school in Japan to reflect the artist's subjective response to his theme and medium. Based initially on the practice of largely self-taught amateurs, it never lost its emphasis on apparently artless brushwork, marking its development from and continued association with calligraphy.

Rhythmic, textured, and full of visual interest, Japanese literati painting, also known as Nanga, or the Southern School, had its roots in China and was influenced primarily by continental painting manuals that were imported to Japan in large numbers from around 1700 onward. Once adopted by the Japanese, Nanga acquired a new lyricism and combined with native styles to arrive at a school of painting distinct from its Chinese counterpart.

The group of works in Nanga: Japanese Literati Paintings provides an unusual opportunity to grasp, in concise fashion, the entire history of the school from its origins in the early 18th century to the advent of Westernization and modernization in the mid-19th century. Through the masters represented, the range of subjects, styles, and brushstrokes that characterized Japanese literati painting are all explored.

Included in the exhibition were important works by the founding artists of the school Gion Nankai and Yanagisawa Kien; the luminaries Yosa Buson and Ike Taiga, professional painters who gave lyrical expression to Japanese themes; Taiga's wife, Gyokuran, a rare example of a woman artist at this date; and early 19th-century masters from the school's final flowering.

The group concluded with one of the most celebrated painting manuals produced in Japan in the Edo period, the woodblock-printed Taigado gafu, which incorporates motifs assembled from Taiga's works by his disciples after his death.