Japanese Splendor at MFAH

MFAH show offers treasure trove of centuries-old art from the Kimiko and John Powers Collection.

Some of the most beautiful landscapes can be found in a section on the 18th-century Scholar-Amateur movement, which valued an expressive style over more academic painting. In A Gentleman Visiting his Friend by Ike no Taiga, for instance, the focus isn't so much on this gentleman but on the immensity and power of nature. The man is but a speck, a near-invisible presence in the corner of the screen.

One of the most notable and striking works in this section isn't even a landscape. Rocks, by the poet Yosa Buson, is a sparse painting of dark rocks and little else. His folding screens seem out of place among the colorful, rolling landscapes of his contemporaries, and even among the whole show. Though made in 1783, Buson's painting is remarkably modern and forward-looking, as if a piece of abstract-expressionism had accidentally found its way in here from another section of the museum.

Unlike Shohaku, some artists during the 18th century were open to their Western visitors, and their pieces show their influence. Shiba Kokan's late 18th-century painting Winter Scene: Water Birds and Willow Tree, for instance, is a fascinating blend of both Dutch and Japanese aesthetics. The oil painting is inspired by the Renaissance concept of uniting science with visual arts — hence the depiction of the birds and the willow tree — while also evoking winter through, as is the Japanese aesthetic, a single motif — the willow, which is devoid of any of its leaves in this chilly winter scene.

Yosa Buson's Rocks, from 1783, is remarkably modern and forward-looking.
Paul Hester, Hester + Hardaway Photographers
Yosa Buson's Rocks, from 1783, is remarkably modern and forward-looking.

Location Info


Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston

1001 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77004

Category: Museums

Region: Kirby-West U


"Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art"

Through September 23.

As you near the end of the exhibition's masterpieces, you're treated to some more remarkable works, these from the Tosa and Kano schools and dating to the late 18th century. Some of the largest, most striking pieces can be found here, chief among them Tigers and Dragons by Kano Tan'yu. Originally two sets of sliding screens, the sets have been remounted as hanging scrolls and are displayed across from each other. One is of two tigers (the yin in Eastern thought), the other a dragon (the yang). They have very expressive, almost human-like faces; they're so full of familiar emotion. And the animals are in the middle of such dynamic movement, they look as if they'll leap right off the page. They're immense, impressive pieces to take in right before you head back into bright lights. Unrivaled splendor indeed.

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