‘Japan Spring’: Unique Trinity of Art Shows on the National Mall

The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji | The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art

Mother Nature has messed a little, this year, with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is celebrating the centennial of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to Washington, D.C. The unusually mild, near-summer weather has caused the blossoms to hit their peak days much earlier than usual — as well as threatening storm weekend weather that might harm the blossoms.

Nothing, however, can dampen the presence of the festival itself which will run through April 27 with its myriad exhibitions, festivals, celebrations, films and performances.

Especially spectacular are the launching of three major and stellar exhibitions celebrating the finest expressions of Japanese art from the Edo period at two noteworthy venues, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The exhibitions are accompanied by a host of special events and programs during the run of the festival and the exhibitions, including films, concerts, performances, lectures, tours, gallery talks and more.

Under the heading of “Japan Spring,” these shows mark the first time any city outside Japan has hosted three major exhibitions of masterworks by distinguished Edo-period Japanese artists.

The National Gallery of Art will host the “Colorful Realm of Living Beings,” a 30-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings by the renowned Edo-period artist Ito Jakuchu who worked on the scrolls for nearly ten years in the middle of the 1700s.

This exhibition marks the first time that all 30 scrolls have been on view in the United States, but also the first time any of the individual scrolls have been seen here since their six-year long restoration. The scrolls are being lent to the National Gallery for one month by the Imperial House of Japan.

The scrolls—exquisitely detailed and stunning—seem to embrace the larger cosmos of the Buddha nature itself, as they embrace and pull together many strands of East Asian traditions of bird-and-flower painting.

“Colorful Realm” also manages to reunite his masterpiece with Jakuchu’s famous triptych of the Buddha Sakyamuni from the Zen monastery Shokokuji in Kyoto.

“Colorful Realm” will be on view at the National Gallery March 30 through April 29.

The Sackler Gallery will host both “Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples” and “Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji,” both examples of masterworks by two artists whose works reflect and exemplify the interests and identity of 19th-century Edo (now Tokyo).

In “Masters of Mercy,” artist Kano Kazunobo produced a series of phantasmagoric paintings on the theme of the lives and deeds of Buddha’s 500 disciples. The exhibitions includes many paintings from the 100-painting series Kazunobo created over nine years for the Pure Land Buddhist temple Zojozi in the heart of Edo.

These paintings have never been displayed outside of Japan. They imagine the lives of the disciples living in the great wide world performing both mundane tasks and miraculous feats of compassion and mercy. “Masters of Mercy” will be on display through July 8.

Opening March 24 is “Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji,” works by Japan’s most famous artist, Katushika Hokusai and his most famous works, a print series which include some of the best known works of art in the world, including “Beneath the Wave of Kanagawa,” or “The Great Wave,” and “South Wind at Clear Dawn” or “Red Fuji.” Ten prints were added to this series because of the popularity of the art when it was first viewed, leaving us with 46 images in total—all prints of exceptional quality. The exhibition will be on view through June 17.

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