In conjunction with Asia Week New York 2011, the gallery presents “Monogatari: Tales of Japan,” which will offer paintings, woodblock prints and a selection of netsuke devoted to the art of story-telling.
One of the highlights of the exhibition will be an illustrated manuscript recounting “The Tale of Bunsho (Bunsho Zoshi),” in the format of three hand scrolls with text by the court calligrapher Mushanokoji Sanekage (1661-1738) and illustrations attributed to Tosa Mitsuoki (1617-1691), one of the most important Tosa school painters of the Edo Period (1603-1838).
“The Tale of Bunsho (the Saltmaker),” is one of a group of short stories called otogizoshi, compiled in the Muromachi period (1338-1573) but more widely known by the 17th and 18th centuries. Sets of hand scrolls, such as this, were often commissioned from Kyoto artists for New Year’s or dowry gifts. This particular tale recounts the life of Bunda (who later changes his name to Bunsho), a lowly servant, who through hard work and devotion to a particular shrine is able to achieve fortune and happiness for his family. The set, formerly in the collection of the Viscount Todo Takanori (1894-1947), was previously exhibited in the illustrious Japan-British Exhibition at the White City in London in 1910.
In addition to hand scrolls, the exhibition will include approximately ten paintings in various formats including a fine example of a pair of screens depicting scenes from the “Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji)” from the 18th century; and a small standing screen (tsuitate) by Ko Sukoku (1730-1804) depicting the legendary ‘armor tugging’ episode from the Soga Brothers kabuki play.
Not limited to paintings, the exhibition will also present a nearly equal number of woodblock prints, such as a triptych depicting “Benkei Playfully Dragging the Bell of Mii Temple up Mt. Hiei,” 1845, by the master of legendary subjects, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). There will also be prints by other Utagawa school artists, and their contemporaries such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), and the later 19th century master, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892).
Among a small group of approximately ten netsuke there will be classic subjects such as this ivory “Monkey and Octopus” by Garaku. This netsuke references a legend in which the octopus-physician to Ryujin, the Dragon King of the Sea, prescribes a monkey’s liver to heal the King’s daughter, but the monkey outwits a jellyfish sent to capture him. In this carving the monkey, with a very human-like bemused expression, seems to have the situation well in hand. There seems to be little danger that the octopus will have any success in securing his prey.
[Image: Mano Gyotei “Raijin, God of Thunder” scroll painting]