An Exhibition of 30 Works by Nihon-Ga Great Yokoyama Taikan (横山大観)- Free, at the Tsukuba Ginko (Tsukuba Bank) Gallery- thru June 30th
By Avi Landau
Cultured people around the globe are readily familiar with many of the big names in pre-modern Japanese art: Hokusai, Hiroshige, Sharaku, Ito Jakuchu, Ogata Korin and Kano Eitoku. Works by these and other Japanese artists of past ages are unversally accepted as being among the worlds greatest artistic achievements.
Few outside Japan, however, are familiar with the names of Japan`s early modern artists, or would recognize their works. This is a shame, since many of the works created during the Meiji, Taisho, and early-Showa Periods are not only beautiful, but represent a unique and fascinating-style. I am talking specifically about a style called NIHON GA (Japanese Painting), which was developed as an attempt to rescue traditional Japanese painting from extinction during a period of rabid Westernization and modernization.
Interestingly, the history of NIHON-GA is deeply connected to Ibaraki Prefecture (in which Tsukuba is located)- and that is probably one reason why the Tsukuba Bank is having a showing of one of the “fathers” of Nihonga, and one of its most important practioners- Yokoyama Taikan.
Taikan was born into a samurai family as Sakai Hidemaro, in what is now part of Mito City, in the first year of Meiji (1868)- just before the samurai class would lose all its special privileges. As a youth, he studied English at the Tokyo School of English and his father had hoped that would lead to a career in government service. His love of painting, however, won out over parental wishes, and he passed the exams to join the first class ever at the newly established Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (now Geidai, the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music). He quickly fell under the spell of the charismatic art critique, philospher and writer Okakura Tenshin- the founder of the university.`
To make a long story short, under Tenshin`s guidance, Yokoyama Taikan (he changed his name since having disobeyed his father he would not succeed the family line- and was adopted into his mother`s family- the Yokoyamas!) and several other artists went up to northern Ibaraki Prefecture, to a village on the Pacific coast called Iizura, and they set about creating a new school of Japanese art- one that was new, yet still connected to the past.
What was this new style they called Nihon Ga? Well, the first way it differed from Western painting was in materials used. Taikan and his circle used Japanese water-colors (made from sand) to paint on paper or silk. In term of philosophy, they wanted to get away from the line-based painting which was so fundamental to traditional Japanese painting. Instead, emphasis would be put on color. In Iizura, Taikan et al. developed a distinctive “misty” technique they called MOROTAI.
Taikan lived until 1958 and his oeuvre is immense. But most of his paintings show strongly related themes- Mt. Fuji, pine trees (like those seen along the Ibaraki coast), Classical Japanses and Chinese heroes, traditional village scenes, cherry-blossoms and autumn foliage, mountains, the sun.
Many of his works are strikingly beautiful. He is one of the Nihon ga artists whose name you SHOULD know.
And while the 30 works on display at the Tsukuba Bank`s second floor gallery might not be his best, it is definitely worth a visit ( even if its just to get the complimentary catalogue). And since they are from a private collection, you might not ever have the chance to see them again!
When you enter the bank on the ground floor, go up the stairs (or take the elevator) to second floor. Strangely there are works both inside and outside the gallery room. My favorite paintings were hanging outside!
I would also strongly recommend leafing throught the books of Taikans complete works (in 3 volumes) on the table at the entranceway to the main gallery. It will give a clearer picture of the artist full body of work.
After you`ve finished your visit, you might realize, like me, that Yokoyama Taikan is a name that should be remembered!
The Taikan Exhibition will be held thru Tuesday June 30th.
The Gallery is open from 9 AM to 5 PM
Admission and parking are free.
The Tsukuba Bank is located across from the Seibu Department Store in Tsukuba (just to the south-west) less than a ten minute walk from from the Tsukuba TX Terminal