Japan encompasses a wide range of habitats, from the icy north to the subtropical south, populated by diverse flora and fauna. The Japanese have celebrated the natural beauty of their island nation in all seasons for millennia and the depiction of plants, animals, flowers, and insects has developed into a popular subject for the fine and decorative arts.
This exhibition explores how the Japanese have portrayed flora and fauna through paintings and ceramics from the mid-17th to the early 20th century. Artists and artisans alike experimented with stylization and realism, common and unusual combinations of floral and fauna subjects, and compositional strategies. Seasonality was conveyed through the selection of particular plants and animals; pheasants and flowering cherry blossoms illustrate spring while geese and wilting river reeds denote autumn. Another common practice was to combine subjects to create auspicious symbolism or to generate visual puns.
Flora and Fauna in Japanese Art features nine works from the Museum collection, including a significant recent acquisition, Komuro Suiun’s Summer Scene with Solitary Duck amidst Rose Mallow and River Reeds, a scroll that was first shown as one of Japan’s fine-art submissions to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. After more than a century, it has returned to join the permanent collection of Japanese art at the Museum.
Gallery 225 is devoted to the periodic rotation of East Asian works on silk and paper and related objects. Flora and Fauna in Japanese Art is curated by Philip Hu, curator of Asian art.