RINPA: The Aesthetics of the Capital

October 10 - November 23, 2015

2015 marks the 400th anniversary of the origins of Rinpa and nearly 300 years since the death of its eponymous artist Ogata Kōrin. Among the various anniversary celebrations taking place in Japan this year, the Kyoto National Museum's commemorative special exhibition is perhaps the ultimate presentation of this subject, tracing the transmission of the Rinpa aesthetic from its inception through the Edo period (1615–1868). Significantly, it is also the first major show of its kind to be held in the birthplace of Rinpa—the ancient capital of Kyoto.

Rinpa (alternatively spelled Rimpa) is a revivalist aesthetic style based on classical artistic and literary traditions. Rinpa works are often characterized by subject matter taken from nature or classical Japanese literature; they frequently have a decorative sensibility and sometimes abstracted design elements and distinctive techniques.

The Rinpa tradition is best represented by three master artists who lived and worked at different periods in early modern Japan: Tawaraya Sōtatsu (active early 1600s), Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), and Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828). The term Rinpa—which is combined from the second character in Kōrin's name and the character for "school" or "style"—was coined in modern times and did not exist during the Edo period. Though sometimes described as a school, Rinpa is less a direct lineage of teachers and their disciples than a lineage of personal artistic influence: Sōtatsu's work inspired Kōrin, whose oeuvre, in turn, influenced Hōitsu. Of course, these three artists never actually met: most artists working in the Rinpa mode discovered the aesthetic for themselves and pursued it out of admiration for their artistic predecessors. The Kyoto National Museum's exhibition features the National Treasure screens Wind God and Thunder God by Sōtatsu as well the very important later Wind God and Thunder God screens produced by Kōrin (Important Cultural Property) and by Hōitsu in homage. This is the first time in seventy-five years that all three sets of screens have been brought together for an exhibition in Kyoto.