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MOA Museum of Art Collection Part II

2022.09.01(Thu) - 2022.10.25(Tue)


The founder of the museum Okada Mokichi (1882–1955) began seriously collecting artworks when Japan was undergoing a social turmoil after the Second World War. He was deeply concerned, from the viewpoint of national identity, that many excellent works of art were falling into the hands of foreign collectors. He also believed that the aesthetics of artworks had the power to heal and uplift the public morals bruised in the war. His vision for founding an art museum thus came into being based on this philosophical view, with an ambition to help Japan establish itself as an art-loving, highly cultured nation.

The art collection of MOA Museum of Art encompasses works from Japan, China, and other Asian countries, mostly acquired by Okada himself. It includes outstanding items of historical significance as well as of aesthetic excellence, ranging from paintings and calligraphic works to sculpture, handicraft, and beyond.

In this second part of the 40th anniversary program, we have curated Chinese paintings and pottery, as well as masterpieces in genre painting, ukiyo-e, Buddhist art, and bronze, including many items of Important Cultural Properties. The Bird on a Plum Tree attributed to Qian Xuan, large Jiaotan ware celadon jar, and paintings Bathhouse Girls, Women in Seasons of Snow, Moon and Flower, and Amitabha with Two Attendants are a few examples.


The Bathhouse Girls, Edo period, Important Cultural Property

The premodern Japan saw an expansion of painting motifs into the lifestyles of commoners, and painting as a vocation became proliferated from school-affiliated painters to self-aspiring townspeople. Popular compositions also underwent changes, from depictions of a group ritual and other activities to portraits of a few individuals, and further to single-figure portraits. In this painting, the six female figures represent service personnel of a bathhouse, which came into fashion during the first half of the 17th century. Bathhouse girls initially provided the clients with assistance to wash them, but the nature of their services changed with time toward providing companionship and entertainment. The elaborate designs of the women’s kimonos represent one of the characteristics of genre paintings of this period. The woman second from the left wears a kimono with hieroglyphic design with a letter that signifies bathing. The women are depicted more realistically than the idealized female figures in bijinga (female portraits) of subsequent periods. There is a sense of living a full life among these six women, who strive through town gaily. Provenance of the Dan family.


Celadon jar, Jiaotan kiln, Guan ware, Southern Song China

Guan ware refers to the pottery produced by court-appointed official kilns in Song dynasty China. The Ru and Northern Song kilns are some of the highly reputed kilns from the Northern Song dynasty era. The Jiaotan kiln was established as a result of the Northern Song court fleeing to south from the invasion of the Jin dynasty in 1127, reestablishing itself in the city of Lin’an (Hangzhou) in 1138. Since the first official kiln of Southern Song was the Xiuneisi kiln, the Jiaotan ceramics are sometimes referred to as “the new Guan ware.” This new Guan ware kiln was established on the southern outskirts of the new capital and produced ceramics of a competitive quality against the Xiuneisi kiln. “Jiaotan” in Chinese means “Altar of Heaven,” and the name reflects the fact that it was located not far from an actual altar of the emperor. The stoneware from this kiln has a characteristic dual pattern of crackles, which present finer crackles within bolder ones. The pattern enriches the landscape on the surface and enhances the colors of the glazes. This exhibit is one of rare examples of Jiaotan wares in its large size. The relatively tall foot and voluminous body lend to its overall elegance. The glaze exhibits a jasper-like sheen. The vessel is lightweight contrary to its appearance. It showcases the technical and artistic finesse attributed to the Guan ware of Jiaotan.


Bird on a Plum Tree, attributed to Qian Xuan, Southern Song to Yuan China

It is believed that the bird-and-flower painting tradition goes back to Tang dynasty China, but it was the Song dynasty period when the style became fully established. Emperor Huizong of Song formed an imperial painting atelier, whose artistic style was characterized by well-balanced composition, meticulous sketches, and effective use of blank areas. The overall taste typically has a tranquil quality. By contrast, paintings from the Southern Song period acquired a taste for more dynamic depiction of creatures with bolder outlines. This painting depicts a flycatcher pursuing a bee with an exceptional sense of momentary intensity in the air. The plum branches and bamboo leaves are rendered in sharp and accurate brush strokes. It was probably created during the Southern Song period or later based on the predominant light colors.


Women in Seasons of Snow, Moon and Flower, Katsukawa Shunshō, Edo period (18th century)

Active during the mid-Edo period, Katsukawa Shunshō (1726–1792) was a prolific ukiyo-e artist and a founding figure of the Katsukawa school of painting. In woodblock printing, he initiated a new trend of portrait prints in which the figures were depicted more realistically, breaking away from the tradition of the Torii school. He was also one of the best ukiyo-e painters for his mastery of brush work. This triptych depicts three preeminent women of the Heian court (9th century), translated into the context of contemporary female culture. The left picture represents Sei Shōnagon likened to a samurai-class dame while the painting in the middle illustrates Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Tale of Genji, as a young lady of a samurai clan, composing a story in a temple. In the right painting, in the likeness of a geisha is poet Ono no Komachi, famous for the poem “The cherry blossoms have lost their color being docile under the long spring rain (and I have wasted my beauty while being preoccupied with trivia of the world).” A stark contrast is drawn between the painting in the middle and those on either side in terms of the depiction of their kimonos. The women’s styles eloquently express the vogue among the townspeople of the capital city.

阿弥陀三尊像 縮小

Amitabha with Two Attendants, Goryeo kingdom (10th–14th century), Korea, Important Cultural Property

Three bodhisattvas of Amitabha, Guanyn, and Daishizhi are depicted standing on their lotus pedestals. In Korea, the trinity or eight great bodhisattvas depicted in a standing position seem to signify the scene of a heavenly descent. Amitabha is posing his left hand in front of his abdomen while stretching out his right arm. Guanyn is holding a water pitcher in his left hand and a willow branch in his right. Daishizhi is carrying a sutra scroll in his hands. The exposed parts of their bodies are colored in pale skin color. Their garments are drawn with fine details, skillfully rendering the light texture of the fabric. The combination of colors encompasses even the lotus pedestals. Provenance of the Inoue family.


Two Beauties, Katsushika Hokusai, Edo period (19th century)

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), whose major woodblock print work is known worldwide today, was also an excellent painter, leaving many brush-painted ukiyo-e beside his masterpieces, such as Hokusai Manga and the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. In 1778, he joined the atelier of a prominent ukiyo-e artist, Katsukawa Shunshō, at the age of 19. While attaining the style of the school, he also eagerly studied other painting styles, such as Kanō, Rinpa, and Sumiyoshi. This painting is assumed to be a work from his early career as a painter. The figures are depicted with refined and succinct brush-lines, as well as the somewhat sedated hues. The fine facial features and peaceful countenances are exemplary of his bijinga repertoire. The courtesan on her feet and geisha sitting on the floor comprise a well-balanced composition, and the artist’s skilled rendition enhances the exquisite countenances and designed kimonos of the ladies. The seals suggest that he painted this in his 40s, toward the end of the 18th to early 19th century.


Box with designs of arabesque, circular stars, swastika and floral cross in mother-of-pearl inlay, Momoyama period (16th century)

This rectangular, necked box with a black lacquer finish has a refined shape with the tapered edges known as karatomen. The top of the cover bears floral arabesque in the middle, circumscribed by a belt of three lines bearing circular stars, swastikas, and floral crosses laid out alternately. The designs are rendered in mother of pearl. The shell's brilliant sheen is exquisite against the black lacquered background. While the dexterous crafting techniques and meticulous application of the urushi lacquer seem strongly to suggest Japanese craftsmanship, the symmetric floral arabesque resembles the archetypal shell inlay work of Joseon Korea, yet the leaves as well as the curves of the vine bear the characteristics of designs for the exports to Europe. The floral cross alludes to Christian influence, whereas the legged box is a Chinese style shape. The melange of different styles is striking, reflecting the undertone of the Momoyama period, which was heavily influenced by the influx of continental cultures.


Weavers and Dyers, Edo period (17th century)

Ukiyo-e, especially in genre painting, typically depicted famous sites and laborers. However, in the early premodern era, compositional styles and themes were proliferated, with growing interest in depicting people, and women in particular, as the main features. The design of this screen is known to exemplify such characteristics of the later development, with the focus placed on women of a vocation—weavers—and their figures are enveloped in gold clouds, which add a depth to the composition. The details such as the women’s garments and decorative autumnal plants are depicted with intricate lines in gold ink, carefully laid out across the entire surface. The authentic rendering of the plants suggests that its creator was probably an artist that perpetuated the style of Iwasa Matabei, who enjoyed a successful career in the early 17th century.