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Japanese painting

japanese painting, japanese painting on silk
Japanese painting 絵画, kaiga, also gadō 画道 is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese visual arts, encompassing a wide variety of genres and styles As with the history of Japanese arts in general, the long history of Japanese painting exhibits synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics and the adaptation of imported ideas, mainly from Chinese painting which was especially influential at a number of points; significant Western influence only comes from the later 16th century onwards, beginning at the same time as Japanese art was influencing that of the West

Areas of subject matter where Chinese influence has been repeatedly significant include Buddhist religious painting, ink-wash painting of landscapes in the Chinese literati painting tradition, calligraphy of ideographs,1 and the painting of animals and plants, especially birds and flowers However distinctively Japanese traditions have developed in all these fields The subject matter that is widely regarded as most characteristic of Japanese painting, and later printmaking, is the depiction of scenes from everyday life and narrative scenes that are often crowded with figures and detail This tradition no doubt began in the early medieval period under Chinese influence that is now beyond tracing except in the most general terms, but from the period of the earliest surviving works had developed into a specifically Japanese tradition that lasted until the modern period

The official List of National Treasures of Japan paintings includes 158 works or sets of works from the 8th to the 19th century though including a number of Chinese paintings that have long been in Japan that represent peaks of achievement, or very rare survivals from early periods


  • 1 Timeline
    • 11 Ancient Japan and Asuka period until 710
    • 12 Nara period 710–794
    • 13 Heian period 794–1185
    • 14 Kamakura period 1185–1333
    • 15 Muromachi period 1333–1573
    • 16 Azuchi–Momoyama period 1573–1615
    • 17 Edo period 1603–1868
    • 18 Prewar period 1868–1945
    • 19 Postwar period 1945–present
  • 2 Notes
  • 3 References
  • 4 Further reading


Ancient Japan and Asuka period until 710edit

The origins of painting in Japan date well back into Japan's prehistoric period Simple figural representations, as well as botanical, architectural, and geometric designs are found on Jōmon period pottery and Yayoi period 300 BC – 300 AD dōtaku bronze bells Mural paintings with both geometric and figural designs have been found in numerous tumuli dating to the Kofun period and Asuka period 300–700 AD

Along with the introduction of the Chinese writing system kanji, Chinese modes of governmental administration, and Buddhism in the Asuka period, many art works were imported into Japan from China and local copies in similar styles began to be produced

Nara period 710–794edit

Mural painting from the Takamatsuzuka Tomb

With the further establishment of Buddhism in 6th and 7th century Japan, religious painting flourished and was used to adorn numerous temples erected by the aristocracy However, Nara-period Japan is recognized more for important contributions in the art of sculpture than painting

The earliest surviving paintings from this period include the murals on the interior walls of the Kondō 金堂 at the temple Hōryū-ji in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture These mural paintings, as well as painted images on the important Tamamushi Shrine include narratives such as jataka, episodes from the life of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, in addition to iconic images of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and various minor deities The style is reminiscent of Chinese painting from the Sui dynasty or the late Sixteen Kingdoms period However, by the mid-Nara period, paintings in the style of the Tang dynasty became very popular These also include the wall murals in the Takamatsuzuka Tomb, dating from around 700 AD This style evolved into the Kara-e genre, which remained popular through the early Heian period

As most of the paintings in the Nara period are religious in nature, the vast majority are by anonymous artists A large collection of Nara period art, Japanese as well as from the Chinese Tang dynasty2 is preserved at the Shōsō-in, an 8th-century repository formerly owned by Tōdai-ji and currently administered by the Imperial Household Agency

Heian period 794–1185edit

With the development of the Esoteric Buddhist sects of Shingon and Tendai, painting of the 8th and 9th centuries is characterized by religious imagery, most notably painted Mandala 曼荼羅, mandara Numerous versions of mandala, most famously the Diamond Realm Mandala and Womb Realm Mandala at Tōji in Kyoto, were created as hanging scrolls, and also as murals on the walls of temples A noted early example is at the five-story pagoda of Daigo-ji, a temple south of Kyoto

With the rising importance of Pure Land sects of Japanese Buddhism in the 10th century, new image-types were developed to satisfy the devotional needs of these sects These include raigōzu 来迎図, which depict Amida Buddha along with attendant bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi arriving to welcome the souls of the faithful departed to Amida's Western Paradise A noted early example dating from 1053 are painted on the interior of the Phoenix Hall of the Byōdō-in, a temple in Uji, Kyoto This is also considered an early example of so-called Yamato-e 大和絵, "Japanese-style painting", insofar as it includes landscape elements such as soft rolling hills that seem to reflect something of the actual appearance of the landscape of western Japan Stylistically, however, this type of painting continues to be informed by Tang Dynasty Chinese "blue and green style" landscape painting traditions Yamato-e is an imprecise term that continues to be debated among historians of Japanese art

Panel from The Tale of Genji handscroll detail Siege of Sanjō Palace

The mid-Heian period is seen as the golden age of Yamato-e, which were initially used primarily for sliding doors fusuma and folding screens byōbu However, new painting formats also came to the fore, especially towards the end of the Heian period, including emakimono, or long illustrated handscrolls Varieties of emakimono encompass illustrated novels, such as the Genji Monogatari , historical works, such as the Ban Dainagon Ekotoba , and religious works In some cases, emaki artists employed pictorial narrative conventions that had been used in Buddhist art since ancient times, while at other times they devised new narrative modes that are believed to convey visually the emotional content of the underlying narrative Genji Monogatari is organized into discreet episodes, whereas the more lively Ban Dainagon Ekotoba uses a continuous narrative mode in order to emphasize the narrative's forward motion These two emaki differ stylistically as well, with the rapid brush strokes and light coloring of Ban Dainagon contrasting starkly to the abstracted forms and vibrant mineral pigments of the Genji scrolls The Siege of the Sanjō Palace is another famous example of this type of painting

E-maki also serve as some of the earliest and greatest examples of the onna-e "women's pictures" and otoko-e "men's pictures" and styles of painting There are many fine differences in the two styles Although the terms seem to suggest the aesthetic preferences of each gender, historians of Japanese art have long debated the actual meaning of these terms, and they remain unclear Perhaps most easily noticeable are the differences in subject matter Onna-e, epitomized by the Tale of Genji handscroll, typically deals with court life and courtly romance while otoko-e, often deal with historical or semi-legendary events, particularly battles

Kamakura period 1185–1333edit

These genres continued on through Kamakura period Japan E-maki of various kinds continued to be produced; however, the Kamakura period was much more strongly characterized by the art of sculpture, rather than painting

As most of the paintings in the Heian and Kamakura periods are religious in nature, the vast majority are by anonymous artists

Muromachi period 1333–1573edit

Right panel of the Pine Trees screen Shōrin-zu byōbu, 松林図 屏風 by Hasegawa Tōhaku, c1595 Landscape by Sesshū Tōyō

During the 14th century, the development of the great Zen monasteries in Kamakura and Kyoto had a major impact on the visual arts Suibokuga, an austere monochrome style of ink painting introduced from the Song and Yuan dynasty China largely replaced the polychrome scroll paintings of the previous period, although some polychrome portraiture remained – primary in the form of chinso paintings of Zen monks Typical of such painting is the depiction by the priest-painter Kaō of the legendary monk Kensu Hsien-tzu in Chinese at the moment he achieved enlightenment This type of painting was executed with quick brush strokes and a minimum of detail

Catching a Catfish with a Gourd located at Taizō-in, Myōshin-ji, Kyoto, by the priest-painter Josetsu, marks a turning point in Muromachi painting In the foreground a man is depicted on the bank of a stream holding a small gourd and looking at a large slithery catfish Mist fills the middle ground, and the background, mountains appear to be far in the distance It is generally assumed that the "new style" of the painting, executed about 1413, refers to a more Chinese sense of deep space within the picture plane

By the end of the 14th century, monochrome landscape paintings 山水画 sansuiga had found patronage by the ruling Ashikaga family and was the preferred genre among Zen painters, gradually evolving from its Chinese roots to a more Japanese style

The foremost artists of the Muromachi period are the priest-painters Shūbun and Sesshū Shūbun, a monk at the Kyoto temple of Shōkoku-ji, created in the painting Reading in a Bamboo Grove 1446 a realistic landscape with deep recession into space Sesshū, unlike most artists of the period, was able to journey to China and study Chinese painting at its source Landscape of the Four Seasons Sansui Chokan; c 1486 is one of Sesshu's most accomplished works, depicting a continuing landscape through the four seasons

In the late Muromachi period, ink painting had migrated out of the Zen monasteries into the art world in general, as artists from the Kanō school and the Ami school ja:阿弥派 adopted the style and themes, but introducing a more plastic and decorative effect that would continue into modern times

Important artists in the Muromachi period Japan include:

  • Mokkei c 1250
  • Mokuan Reien died 1345
  • Kaō Ninga e14th century
  • Mincho 1352–1431
  • Josetsu 1405–1423
  • Tenshō Shūbun died 1460
  • Sesshū Tōyō 1420–1506
  • Kanō Masanobu 1434–1530
  • Kanō Motonobu 1476–1559

Azuchi–Momoyama period 1573–1615edit

Screen detail depicting arrival of a Western ship, attributed to Kanō Naizen 1570–1616

In sharp contrast to the previous Muromachi period, the Azuchi–Momoyama period was characterized by a grandiose polychrome style, with extensive use of gold and silver foil, and by works on a very large scale The Kanō school, patronized by Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and their followers, gained tremendously in size and prestige Kanō Eitoku developed a formula for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room These huge screens and wall paintings were commissioned to decorate the castles and palaces of the military nobility This status continued into the subsequent Edo period, as the Tokugawa bakufu continued to promote the works of the Kano school as the officially sanctioned art for the Shogun, daimyōs, and Imperial court

However, non-Kano school artists and currents existed and developed during the Azuchi–Momoyama period as well, adapting Chinese themes to Japanese materials and aesthetics One important group was the Tosa school, which developed primarily out of the yamato-e tradition, and which was known mostly for small scale works and illustrations of literary classics in book or emaki format

Important artists in the Azuchi-Momoyama period include:

  • Kanō Eitoku 1543–1590
  • Kanō Sanraku 1559–1663
  • Kanō Tan'yū 1602–1674
  • Hasegawa Tōhaku 1539–1610
  • Kaihō Yūshō 1533–1615

Edo period 1603–1868edit

Scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma by Hakuin Ekaku 1685 to 1768 Fūjin wind god by Ogata Kōrin Part of the series Dōshoku sai-e by Itō Jakuchū

Many art historians show the Edo period as a continuation of the Azuchi-Momoyama period Certainly, during the early Edo period, many of the previous trends in painting continued to be popular; however, a number of new trends also emerged

One very significant school which arose in the early Edo period was the Rinpa school, which used classical themes, but presented them in a bold, and lavishly decorative format Sōtatsu in particular evolved a decorative style by re-creating themes from classical literature, using brilliantly colored figures and motifs from the natural world set against gold-leaf backgrounds A century later, Korin reworked Sōtatsu's style and created visually gorgeous works uniquely his own

Another important genre which began during Azuchi–Momoyama period, but which reached its full development during the early Edo period was Namban art, both in the depiction of exotic foreigners and in the use of the exotic foreigner style in painting This genre was centered around the port of Nagasaki, which after the start of the national seclusion policy of the Tokugawa shogunate was the only Japanese port left open to foreign trade, and was thus the conduit by which Chinese and European artistic influences came to Japan Paintings in this genre include Nagasaki school paintings, and also the Maruyama-Shijo school, which combine Chinese and Western influences with traditional Japanese elements

A third important trend in the Edo period was the rise of the Bunjinga literati painting genre, also known as the Nanga school Southern Painting school This genre started as an imitation of the works of Chinese scholar-amateur painters of the Yuan dynasty, whose works and techniques came to Japan in the mid-18th century Master Kuwayama Gyokushū was the greatest supporter of creating the bunjin style He theorised that polychromatic landscapes were to be considered at the same level of monochromatic paintings by Chinese literati Furthermore, he included some Japanese traditionalist artists, such as Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Ogata Kōrin of the Rinpa group, among major Nanga representatives3 Later bunjinga artists considerably modified both the techniques and the subject matter of this genre to create a blending of Japanese and Chinese styles The exemplars of this style are Ike no Taiga, Uragami Gyokudō, Yosa Buson, Tanomura Chikuden, Tani Bunchō, and Yamamoto Baiitsu

Due to the Tokugawa shogunate's policies of fiscal and social austerity, the luxurious modes of these genre and styles were largely limited to the upper strata of society, and were unavailable, if not actually forbidden to the lower classes The common people developed a separate type of art, the fūzokuga, 風俗画, Genre art in which painting depicting scenes from common, everyday life, especially that of the common people, kabuki theatre, prostitutes and landscapes were popular These paintings in the 16th century gave rise to the paintings and woodcut prints of ukiyo-e

Important artists in the Edo period include:

  • Tawaraya Sōtatsu died 1643
  • Tosa Mitsuoki 1617–1691
  • Ogata Kōrin 1658–1716
  • Gion Nankai 1677–1751
  • Sakaki Hyakusen 1697–1752
  • Yanagisawa Kien 1704–1758
  • Yosa Buson 1716–1783
  • Itō Jakuchū 1716–1800
  • Ike no Taiga 1723–1776
  • Suzuki Harunobu c 1725–1770
  • Soga Shōhaku 1730–1781
  • Maruyama Ōkyo 1733–1795
  • Okada Beisanjin 1744–1820
  • Uragami Gyokudō 1745–1820
  • Matsumura Goshun 1752–1811
  • Katsushika Hokusai 1760–1849
  • Tani Bunchō 1763–1840
  • Tanomura Chikuden 1777–1835
  • Okada Hankō 1782–1846
  • Yamamoto Baiitsu 1783–1856
  • Watanabe Kazan 1793–1841
  • Utagawa Hiroshige 1797–1858
  • Shibata Zeshin 1807–1891
  • Tomioka Tessai 1836–1924
  • Kumashiro Hi Yūhi c 1712–1772

Prewar period 1868–1945edit

Kuroda Seiki, Lakeside, 1897, oil on canvas, Kuroda Memorial Hall, Tokyo Yoritomo in a Cave by Maeda Seison

The prewar period was marked by the division of art into competing European styles and traditional indigenous styles

During the Meiji period, Japan underwent a tremendous political and social change in the course of the Europeanization and modernization campaign organized by the Meiji government Western-style painting yōga was officially promoted by the government, who sent promising young artists abroad for studies, and who hired foreign artists to come to Japan to establish an art curriculum at Japanese schools

However, after an initial burst of enthusiasm for western style art, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and led by art critic Okakura Kakuzō and educator Ernest Fenollosa, there was a revival of appreciation for traditional Japanese styles Nihonga In the 1880s, western style art was banned from official exhibitions and was severely criticized by critics Supported by Okakura and Fenollosa, the Nihonga style evolved with influences from the European pre-Raphaelite movement and European romanticism

The Yōga style painters formed the Meiji Bijutsukai Meiji Fine Arts Society to hold its own exhibitions and to promote a renewed interest in western art

In 1907, with the establishment of the Bunten under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, both competing groups found mutual recognition and co-existence, and even began the process towards mutual synthesis

The Taishō period saw the predominance of Yōga over Nihonga After long stays in Europe, many artists including Arishima Ikuma returned to Japan under the reign of Yoshihito, bringing with them the techniques of impressionism and early Post-Impressionism The works of Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir influenced early Taishō period paintings However, yōga artists in the Taishō period also tended towards eclecticism, and there was a profusion of dissident artistic movements These included the Fusain Society Fyuzankai which emphasized styles of post-impressionism, especially fauvism In 1914, the Nikakai Second Division Society emerged to oppose the government-sponsored Bunten Exhibition

Japanese painting during the Taishō period was only mildly influenced by other contemporary European movements, such as neoclassicism and late post-impressionism

However, interestingly it was resurgent Nihonga, towards mid-1920s, which adopted certain trends from post-impressionism The second generation of Nihonga artists formed the Japan Fine Arts Academy Nihon Bijutsuin to compete against the government-sponsored Bunten, and although yamato-e traditions remained strong, the increasing use of western perspective, and western concepts of space and light began to blur the distinction between Nihonga and yōga

Japanese painting in the prewar Shōwa period was largely dominated by Sōtarō Yasui and Ryūzaburō Umehara, who introduced the concepts of pure art and abstract painting to the Nihonga tradition, and thus created a more interpretative version of that genre This trend was further developed by Leonard Foujita and the Nika Society, to encompass surrealism To promote these trends, the Independent Art Association Dokuritsu Bijutsu Kyokai was formed in 1931

During the World War II, government controls and censorship meant that only patriotic themes could be expressed Many artists were recruited into the government propaganda effort, and critical non-emotional review of their works is only just beginning

Important artists in the prewar period include:

  • Harada Naojirō 1863–1899
  • Yamamoto Hōsui 1850–1906
  • Asai Chū 1856–1907
  • Kanō Hōgai 1828–1888
  • Hashimoto Gahō 1835–1908
  • Kuroda Seiki 1866–1924
  • Wada Eisaku 1874–1959
  • Okada Saburōsuke 1869–1939
  • Sakamoto Hanjirō 1882–1962
  • Aoki Shigeru 1882–1911
  • Fujishima Takeji 1867–1943
  • Yokoyama Taikan 1868-1958
  • Hishida Shunsō 1874-1911
  • Kawai Gyokudō 1873-1957
  • Uemura Shōen 1875–1949
  • Maeda Seison 1885–1977
  • Takeuchi Seihō 1864–1942
  • Tomioka Tessai 1837–1924
  • Shimomura Kanzan 1873–1930
  • Takeshiro Kanokogi 1874–1941
  • Imamura Shiro 1880–1916
  • Tomita Keisen 1879–1936
  • Koide Narashige 1887–1931
  • Kishida Ryūsei 1891–1929
  • Tetsugorō Yorozu 1885–1927
  • Hayami Gyoshū 1894–1935
  • Kawabata Ryūshi 1885–1966
  • Tsuchida Hakusen 1887–1936
  • Murakami Kagaku 1888–1939
  • Sōtarō Yasui 1881–1955
  • Sanzō Wada 1883–1967
  • Ryūzaburō Umehara 1888–1986
  • Yasuda Yukihiko 1884–1978
  • Kobayashi Kokei 1883–1957
  • Leonard Foujita 1886–1968
  • Yuzō Saeki 1898–1928
  • Itō Shinsui 1898–1972
  • Kaburaki Kiyokata 1878–1972
  • Takehisa Yumeji 1884–1934

Postwar period 1945–presentedit

In the postwar period, the government-sponsored Japan Art Academy Nihon Geijutsuin was formed in 1947, containing both nihonga and yōga divisions Government sponsorship of art exhibitions has ended, but has been replaced by private exhibitions, such as the Nitten, on an even larger scale Although the Nitten was initially the exhibition of the Japan Art Academy, since 1958 it has been run by a separate private corporation Participation in the Nitten has become almost a prerequisite for nomination to the Japan Art Academy, which in itself is almost an unofficial prerequisite for nomination to the Order of Culture

The arts of the Edo and prewar periods 1603–1945 was supported by merchants and urban people Counter to the Edo and prewar periods, arts of the postwar period became popular After World War II, painters, calligraphers, and printmakers flourished in the big cities, particularly Tokyo, and became preoccupied with the mechanisms of urban life, reflected in the flickering lights, neon colors, and frenetic pace of their abstractions All the "isms" of the New York-Paris art world were fervently embraced After the abstractions of the 1960s, the 1970s saw a return to realism strongly flavored by the "op" and "pop" art movements, embodied in the 1980s in the explosive works of Ushio Shinohara Many such outstanding avant-garde artists worked both in Japan and abroad, winning international prizes These artists felt that there was "nothing Japanese" about their works, and indeed they belonged to the international school By the late 1970s, the search for Japanese qualities and a national style caused many artists to reevaluate their artistic ideology and turn away from what some felt were the empty formulas of the West Contemporary paintings within the modern idiom began to make conscious use of traditional Japanese art forms, devices, and ideologies A number of mono-ha artists turned to painting to recapture traditional nuances in spatial arrangements, color harmonies, and lyricism

Japanese-style or nihonga painting continues in a prewar fashion, updating traditional expressions while retaining their intrinsic character Some artists within this style still paint on silk or paper with traditional colors and ink, while others used new materials, such as acrylics

Many of the older schools of art, most notably those of the Edo and prewar periods, were still practiced For example, the decorative naturalism of the rimpa school, characterized by brilliant, pure colors and bleeding washes, was reflected in the work of many artists of the postwar period in the 1980s art of Hikosaka Naoyoshi The realism of Maruyama Ōkyo's school and the calligraphic and spontaneous Japanese style of the gentlemen-scholars were both widely practiced in the 1980s Sometimes all of these schools, as well as older ones, such as the Kanō school ink traditions, were drawn on by contemporary artists in the Japanese style and in the modern idiom Many Japanese-style painters were honored with awards and prizes as a result of renewed popular demand for Japanese-style art beginning in the 1970s More and more, the international modern painters also drew on the Japanese schools as they turned away from Western styles in the 1980s The tendency had been to synthesize East and West Some artists had already leapt the gap between the two, as did the outstanding painter Shinoda Toko Her bold sumi ink abstractions were inspired by traditional calligraphy but realized as lyrical expressions of modern abstraction

There are also a number of contemporary painters in Japan whose work is largely inspired by anime sub-cultures and other aspects of popular and youth culture Takashi Murakami is perhaps among the most famous and popular of these, along with and the other artists in his Kaikai Kiki studio collective His work centers on expressing issues and concerns of postwar Japanese society through what are usually seemingly innocuous forms He draws heavily from anime and related styles, but produces paintings and sculptures in media more traditionally associated with fine arts, intentionally blurring the lines between commercial and popular art and fine arts

Important artists in the postwar period include:

  • Ogura Yuki 1895–2000
  • Uemura Shōko 1902–2001
  • Koiso Ryōhei 1903–1988
  • Kaii Higashiyama 1908–1999


  1. ^ J Conder, Paintings and studies by Kawanabe Kyôsai, 1911, Kawanabe Kyôsai Memorial Museum, Japan: "It is sometimes said that Japanese painting is merely another kind of writing, but" p27
  2. ^ "The Imperial Household Agency "About the Shosoin"" Shosoinkunaichogojp Archived from the original on 2013-05-23 Retrieved 2013-04-21 
  3. ^ Marco, Meccarelli 2015 "Chinese Painters in Nagasaki: Style and Artistic Contaminatio during the Tokugawa Period 1603–1868" Ming Qing Studies 2015, Pages 175–236


  • Keene, Donald Dawn to the West Columbia University Press; 1998 ISBN 0-231-11435-4
  • Mason, Penelope History of Japanese Art Prentice Hall 2005 ISBN 0-13-117602-1
  • Paine, Robert Treat, in: Paine, R T & Soper A, "The Art and Architecture of Japan", Pelican History of Art, 3rd ed 1981, Penguin now Yale History of Art, ISBN 0140561080
  • Sadao, Tsuneko Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview Kodansha International 2003 ISBN 4-7700-2939-X
  • Schaap, Robert, A Brush with Animals, Japanese Paintings, 1700-1950, Bergeijk, Society for Japanese Arts & Hotei Publishing, 2007 ISBN 978-90-70216-07-8
  • Schaarschmidt Richte Japanese Modern Art Painting From 1910 Edition Stemmle ISBN 3-908161-85-1
  • Watson, William, The Great Japan Exhibition: Art of the Edo Period 1600-1868, 1981, Royal Academy of Arts/Wiedenfield and Nicolson

Further readingedit

  • Momoyama, Japanese art in the age of grandeur New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1975 ISBN 9780870991257 
  • Murase, Miyeko 2000 Bridge of dreams: the Mary Griggs Burke collection of Japanese art New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art ISBN 0870999419 

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