AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 158

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Session 158: The Rhetoric of the Real: Representing Nature in Tokugawa-Meiji Writing and Visual Culture

Organizer: Chelsea Foxwell, University of Chicago, USA

Discussant: Maki Fukuoka, University of Michigan, USA

Artists and scholars in early modern Japan were deeply interested in plants, animals, shells, and other natural objects. Whether the end product was a diorama, an herbological treatise, or a painting for an auspicious occasion, many cultural forms depended on strategies of accurately depicting real things. In the Meiji period, earlier representational practices were recalibrated to suit new purposes. This panel investigates these practices along with the conceptions of nature that underscored them. The rhetoric of portraying things just as they are was pervasive and reached far beyond specialized circles. For example, Tokugawa-era texts report that even Ito Jakuchu (1700-76), hardly known for his realism today, preferred to paint chickens over exotic birds since the former were available for study outside his window. How did general views about nature and naturalism in the Tokugawa and Meiji periods relate to trends in art and natural history? Did verbal and visual strategies of representing real things interact with each other? Finally, what did eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century approaches toward the natural world contribute to the pursuit of scientific and technological accuracy in the Meiji period? In considering these questions, the presenters proceed from the standpoint that the commitment to documenting the natural world is never neutral or transparent, but always shaped by certain rhetorical positions.

Nude or Naked? The Life Sketches of Maruyama Okyo
Hiroko Kato, Tokyo National Museum, Japan

This presentation analyses the shasei, or copying from life, methods of Maruyama Okyo (1733-95), often considered the patriarch of this genre. Okyo’s Complete Sketches of the Human Form (Tenri University Library) has hitherto been viewed as an unidealized depiction of an actual, “naked” human model, but is this really the case? Judging such details as the facial expressions and doll-like appearance of the body, particularly in the full body view, I posit that Okyo’s depiction actually combines life sketches of a doll with sketches of each part of the human body based on physiognomy diagrams. The result is a form of idealization that differs from the idealization of the body in the history of the West. Two sources support this hypothesis: a record written by patron and a copy of Okyo’s human sketches containing erotic pictures (shunga) along with a note that the original was intended as a model to learn to draw the human figure. The development of Okyo’s life sketches should be considered alongside the connections between his work and dolls for the nobility, eyeglass pictures (megane-e), and show tents (misemono) in the Shijo-Kawara area, a part of Kyoto with which the painter was deeply familiar. This, along with the fact that Okyo had become known for his extremely lifelike erotic pictures in his early days, suggests that his life sketches cannot be considered in isolation from these elements of urban culture that frequently bridged the gap between reality and fiction.

Naturalistic or not Naturalistic? The 19th-Century British Understanding of the Maruyama-Shijo School
Princess Akiko of Mikasa, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

The Maruyama-Shijo School, often simply called the Shijo School in nineteenth-century British accounts, was a school of painting which flourished mainly in Kyoto between the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The school is today known for its ‘naturalistic’ style in the history of Japanese paintings, as its founder Maruyama Okyo valued shasei or drawing from nature. Differing from the older Kano and Yamato-e Schools, the Shijo School’s naturalistic representation and style were more popular among 19th-century British collectors. This paper focuses on accounts of the Maruyama-Shijo School by two British collectors, William Anderson (1842-1900) and William Gowland (1842-1922). In the late nineteenth century, both stayed in Japan as Japanese government employees and formed sizable collections of Japanese paintings and other artworks, which are now housed at the British Museum. Although impressed by the school’s painting, both collectors still found ‘old mannerisms’ in Okyo’s works. They thought that Okyo was unable to free himself from the rules set by the old masters. Anderson, for example, criticized the school’s naturalistic principle as insufficiently developed. As Anderson was a doctor and Gowland a chemist, both might have seen the Japanese understanding of naturalism as scientifically illogical. By investigating the British understanding of naturalism in the 19th century through an analysis of accounts of Maruyama-Shijo School, this paper aims to reveal the ways in which the British perceived Japanese paintings at the time.

Transparent Allegory: Nature and Naturalism in the Artistic Circle of Ernest Fenollosa
Chelsea Foxwell, University of Chicago, USA

The American Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) described himself as guiding Japanese artists toward the production of new paintings during the mid-1880s and is often linked to observations about the paintings’ heightened naturalism. However, the relationship between Fenollosa’s views and the artists he championed is seldom analyzed. Did Fenollosa’s contribution stop at the level of political championship and economic support, as some have suggested, or can we detect the traces of visual and intellectual interaction between his ideas and the painted works? Examining paintings by Kano Hogai and Hashimoto Gaho in Japanese and American museum collections, I propose that they and Fenollosa approached natural or anatomical motifs as capable of transcending the culturally specific boundaries of history, religion, or mythology in order to achieve a more direct, universal form of understanding. This mode of valuing pictures was well suited to the circumstances in which Japanese paintings first began to reach audiences of unprecedented size and diversity at the world’s fairs and at Japan’s domestic exhibitions. As such, it had repercussions for the future of nihonga exhibition art and appealed to a dichotomy of “natural” seeing versus culturally and linguistically specific reading, a dichotomy that still informs many of our interactions with pictures today.

Naturalism in Modern Japanese Ceramics: Stoneware Basin with a Crab by Miyagawa Kozan I
Shinya Maezaki, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Naturalism in Modern Japanese Ceramics: Stoneware Basin with a Crab by Miyagawa Kozan I Miyagawa Kozan I (1842-1916), better known as ‘Makuzu Kozan’, is the most respected Japanese potter during the Meiji era. He was a son of Makuzu Chozo (1797-1868), one of the leading potters in Kyoto, and learned traditional skills in ceramic production from his youth. Having been invited by merchants from Satsuma domain, Kozan moved to Yokohama, the country’s largest trading port, in 1870. Soon, he became famous for vases and jars with sculpted figures of naturalistic birds and animals. The potter continued to produce works in this style until 1890s when he shifted his interests to Chinese styles. Stoneware Basin with a Crab in the collection of Tokyo National Museum is probably Kozan I’s best-known example from this period. A finely coloured and modelled crab is crawling over a wildly shaped stoneware basin. Previous studies have treated this work as the embodiment of the ingenuity of Meiji arts and crafts. It thus became the first Meiji ceramic ware to be registered to an important cultural property in 2002. This paper will discuss the meaning of naturalism in the Meiji era through a detailed examination of this type of work by Miyagawa Kozan I. It will reveal that people of the time in Japan often criticised Miyagawa’s naturalistic approach, which was but one of many new approaches at the time and never became mainstream. In terms of the history of Japanese ceramics, naturalism is perhaps not as important as has been suggested.