Ideal Landscapes
Aspects of Literary Painting in Japan

23.02.2010 to 30.05.2010

The landscape established itself as an important theme in East Asian painting as long ago as the first millennium. Waterfalls, rivers or lakes and mountains illustrate the forces of nature and in China they served as an idealized image of the cosmos. For the educated elite of the literary-minded who mostly rose from the class of land-owning officials, the topic also brought with it the yearning for a refined life spent in harmony with nature, dedicated to cultivating the noble arts of poetry, music, painting and calligraphy.

This vision often stood in direct opposition to the day-to-day life for such individuals, as determined by the affairs of state. Most of them only painted as a hobby and attempted to articulate their noble sentiments through their landscape pictures. But besides this, their individual personality increasingly came to the forefront in the tone of their brushwork.

Landscape painting by Chinese literary figures only began to be imitated in Japan in the 18th century. Members of the Japanese scholarly elite, who were excluded from direct involvement in politics, saw in Chinese literary culture a way to express an alternative vision of society. Professional painters used the appeal of the new and exotic Chinese tradition of education, as well as the prestige that came with it, to market their pictures. The exhibition presents some 20 works by such Japanese literary painters from the 18th and 19th century. As well as landscapes, animal and flower pictures are also on display, which testify to the Japanese enthusiasm for Chinese culture in this milieu.