Exhibition Closing & Guided Tour: Flowers of the Four Seasons

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Exhibition Closing & Guided Tour: Flowers of the Four Seasons

2155 Center Street
94720 Berkeley

October 12th, 2010 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Other (outside areas listed)
Wednesday–Sunday, 11am–7pm
University of California Berkeley
$7; Free for Cal Students and BAM members


Exhinition Closing!

Flowers of the Four Seasons: Ten Centuries of Art from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture

Guided Tours (2pm)

Guided tours of Flowers of the Four Seasons are presented by UC Berkeley graduate students in the Department of Art History on Thursdays at 12 noon and Sundays at 2 p.m. Student guides, all of whom specialize in East Asian art, are Kristopher Kersey, Carl Gellert, and Michelle Wang. Please consult the calendar on page TK for schedule details.

Support for the museum’s graduate student tour guide program has been generously provided by Catherine and James Koshland.


Flowers of the Four Seasons: Ten Centuries of Art from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture

The literary classics of China and Japan play an important role in the visual culture of Japan and are often the source of narrative paintings. One of the thematic sections of Flowers of the Four Seasons, “Yearning for the Classics,” explores the depictions of these familiar topics in paintings on hanging scrolls and screens. The large folding-screen format, which allows for the expansive treatment of figures, is especially suited to this genre, as seen in the single six-panel screen illustrating the Chinese-inspired classic Emperor Ming Huang and Yang Guifei, attributed to Kanō Mitsunobu (1565-1608).  In this work, the costumes and settings are allowed full expression and a story unfolds with grandeur and drama.

Emperor Ming Huang and Yang Guifei depicts a scene from the “Song of Everlasting Sorrow,” an epic poem written by the Chinese poet Bo Juyi in 806. This tragic story of the emperor and his consort was particularly popular among Kanō school artists of the Momoyama period. Ming Huang (685–762), the sixth-generation emperor of the Tang dynasty (618–907), enjoyed great peace and prosperity in the early years of his reign. But in his later years, the emperor became distracted by his love for Yang Guifei, who embroiled him in the An Lushan Rebellion (755). The poem romanticizes how Yang Guifei was executed in the rebellion by the emperor’s own troops, and how Ming Huang mourned her death and set out in search of her soul. This work had a great impact on Japanese Heian court literature such as the Tale of Genji.

In smaller works, such as Woman of Takayasu by Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828), the story is expressed subtly and requires literary knowledge of the Heian classic the Tale of Ise. In this painting, a gentleman dressed in the robes and headwear typical of a courtier of the Heian period stands at a lattice window taking a peak at a woman busy with kitchen work. Those who have read the Tale of Ise will recognize this character as Ariwara no Narihira (825-880), whose interest in a woman from Takayasu is stifled when he sees her at domestic chores.

Other images, such as Huts, Mountain, and Snipes by Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), a triptych depicting poems known collectively as “Three Evening Scenes,” refer to traditional and famous waka (thirty-one-syllable) poems.  All three poems from a famous Kamakura period anthology end with the same line “Aki no yugure”  (In the Autumn Dusk).  Kiitsu has taken this topic as the visual focal point for each of his paintings and rendered them in a beautifully atmospheric soft-focus landscape.

Often the literary references in such paintings are remote, even for a Japanese viewer, so it is all the more remarkable that the genre is a significant part of the Clark collection, since many collectors would not have recognized the subtle meaning hidden in the works.

Julia M. White
Senior Curator for Asian Art


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