Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bountiful Waters: Aquatic Life in Japanese Art

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through September 14, 2014

Imagine my surprise to head over to the Freer and be confronted with both noise and crowds!  As part of the Cherry Bloosom Festival (I'm assuming), there was a troupe of musicians on the front steps of the Freer, playing the drums.  And when I say playing, what I mean is pounding, and VERY loudly.  The cacophony drew a crowd - more people than I think I've seen at the Freer ever.  Happily, I was able to enter on the Independence Avenue side, and the noise was inaudible from inside.  Clearly, marble is an excellent insulating material.

Once inside, quiet and solitude reigned as usual, and I set out to see this lovely show on Japanese aquatic art.  Beginning in the 18th century, depictions of natural life became quite important in Japan, as sources of information on different species became available through trade with Europe and China through the port city of Nagasaki.   Mostly, Japanese artists were copying what they had seen in books, although some were able to work from life.

This exhibit features many painting of carp, especially leaping up waterfalls, as in the picture accompanying this post.  I like this idea; there's a playful quality about it that appeals to me.  One thing I saw that I don't think I've see before is a print block, from which numerous prints can be made.  Of course, I've seen many prints before, but not an original block.  Granted, the block itself isn't that exciting to look at - I wouldn't want to see a whole room full of them.  But one is interesting.

Another prime feature of this show is the "Large Fish" prints by Utagawa Hiroshige.  It's a series of fish painted with flowers, and very nice it is too.  I'm delighted to say that my favorite, Hokusai, was also on display; a very fine painting of 100 types of crustaceans was the thing that held my attention longest.

Verdict: A wonderful way to celebrate the blooming of the cherry blossom trees and the return of spring to DC, without the crowds.

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