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There goes the afternoon

Post #1450 • February 2, 2010, 12:15 PM • 24 Comments

This just in:

The earliest Chinese paintings in one of the most important collections in the West are now featured in a new public Web resource launched by the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries. "Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy" contains hundreds of images and comprehensive documentation of the Freer's exceptional holdings of 85 works of Chinese brushwork from the 10th through the 14th centuries.

The culmination of years of research and preparation, the Web site comprises an unprecedented assemblage of documentary information presented in Chinese and English about the Freer's collection of Song and Yuan paintings. Art historians and the larger scholarly community will benefit from the most comprehensive documentation ever assembled or published on these renowned works of Chinese art. The project aims to create a virtual catalog of the collection that can readily incorporate new documentation, scholarship and photography. This adaptability is intended to make the site a changing reflection of scholarly advances rather than a static record of current opinion.




February 2, 2010, 1:11 PM

Those works at the Freer are the very finest I've seen. The two times I've been in that little Italianate villa it was almost too much. But I had time on both occasions to at least go back for second and third looks at those splendid wall screens and the other things.

The one problem I had with the Freer though, was their presentation, which, back in the early 80s when I was there, didn't seem to have been that important an issue to the staff.



February 2, 2010, 1:18 PM

Very fine website, good photography, concise info, easily navigable. Thanks, Franklin.



February 3, 2010, 9:28 AM

A little something to go with the new site:


It's by Kawai Kanjiro. You can look him up.



February 3, 2010, 9:55 AM

My kind of Pop art:




February 3, 2010, 10:01 AM

What a Japanese Matisse might have done in the 18th century:




February 3, 2010, 10:26 AM

Hiroshige prints:

Waterfall (detail)
Fuji and bay
Fuji and bay (detail)
Basket ferry
Basket ferry (detail)

Keep in mind these are fine copies made from recut woodblocks c. 1900 (still made manually just like the originals, meaning nothing photographic involved).



February 3, 2010, 11:36 AM

About Kanjiro Kawai (1890-1966), lifted from

Kawai's output was so tremendous that it almost seems as if some supernatural force was guiding him. The Buddhist term tariki refers to such a reliance on grace, and it appears that Kawai had embraced it. "When you become so absorbed in your work that beauty flows naturally, then your work truly becomes a work of art," he wrote in an essay titled "We Do Not Work Alone." He continued, "Everything that is, is not. Everything is, yet at the same time, nothing is. I myself am the emptiest of all."

In a Western sense this would most likely be perceived as a negative and pitiful comment, but in the East it is often the emptiness and the silence that are most important. Only when something is empty can it be filled. Kawai filled his spirit and works with tariki. The somewhat eccentric Kawai was an extraordinary being, like an elf working alone late into the night; many of his pieces are full of a beauty and mystery that one can only describe as otherworldliness. He also never let his joy and wonder at simple things pass, even late into his years--a flower petal or the movement of his hands were causes for celebration. Like his lifelong friend Hamada, Kawai never signed his work but said, "My work itself is my best signature."

He was a master of glazes, and performed 10,000 experiments on glazes while a student at the ceramic divisions of Tokyo Technical College and Kyoto Municipal Institute of Ceramics. Red copper glazes (shinsha or yuriko) were one of his trademark colors. He also used a deep brown iron glaze (tetsu-yu) and a brilliant cobalt blue glaze (gosu). His pots come in many asymmetrical shapes and show expressionistic techniques such as tsutsugaki (slip-trailed decoration), ronuki (wax-resist) or hakeme (white slip).

Kawai's work is so distinctive that it sort of contradicts the "unknown craftsman" spirit of the mingei ideal. Kawai was full of personality and warmth. It comes through in all of his work; which includes calligraphy, wood carvings and ceramic sculpture. Yet he didn't bask in the limelight, but refused all official positions and honors including that of Living National Treasure. He never lost touch with common folk and greatly respected the farmers in the countryside. "They are the kind of people we can never do without," he wrote.



February 3, 2010, 2:29 PM

More Pop, Meiji style:

Kabuki actors (click on image to sharpen it)



February 3, 2010, 7:04 PM

Three sake cups, all in a row:

Shino, Seto and Karatsu (left to right)



February 3, 2010, 7:52 PM

Like three lil' cupcakes. Delicious. Box me up a dozen.

The pots look so nice next together. They set each other off rather nicely. I guess just as any fine work tends to do while in good company. Those unglazed faceted red-jobs a few threads back were thugs.

Contrast is everything.



February 3, 2010, 7:57 PM

how about, 'the pots look so nice together'...



February 3, 2010, 8:32 PM

Thugs? According to Chris Rywalt, all pots are feminine. Of course, Chris has issues...



February 3, 2010, 9:01 PM

A bit more contrast: a water dropper or suiteki (small calligraphy tool) in celadon:

Celadon 1
Celadon 2
Celadon 3
Celadon 4 (detail)



February 3, 2010, 9:28 PM

A Bizen thug, I suppose:

Tokkuri 1
Tokkuri 2
Tokkuri 3
Tokkuri 4

A tokkuri is a sake bottle.



February 3, 2010, 9:44 PM

I should have said a feminine thug, of course.


Chris Rywalt

February 3, 2010, 10:45 PM

Of course pots are feminine. How could they not be? Some are vessels, some do the filling. It's just nature.



February 3, 2010, 10:52 PM

Chris, you need some sort of intervention. Maybe Oprah can help you. I mean, she apparently helps everyone else (except hardened haters like me, obviously).



February 4, 2010, 12:14 AM

Re: Thug-cakes...I mean to indicate a tough beauty. The unglazed body in the red ones along with the faceting and the shapes themselves are all rather tough, to my eye anyway. Minimal, obdurate, stubbornly attractive and unified. From the right hands and eyes, simple proportions can go a long way.

They also remind me of the clay mix we used in school. We mixed in Perlite(?) (a gardening soil additive) as an aerator in our sculpture and you end up with something along the lines of the grit-like bits we saw in the bottle, which are probably less grit and just color flecks from firing, as you mentioned.

Would the sides of that piece have been cut or paddled?



February 4, 2010, 7:55 AM

"Would the sides of that piece have been cut or paddled?"

I would say both; cut where you can see striations and paddled where the surface is smoother and less evenly flat. I'm guessing it was made on a wheel rather than hand built and then carved & molded into this shape.



February 4, 2010, 9:01 AM

I expect OP is right. The piece is modern, and the potter was evidently aiming for an expressionistic sculptural quality, which is interesting and striking but perhaps a bit too artful. Still, it's amazing what can be done with only clay and fire.



February 4, 2010, 9:24 AM

I was still referring to the unglazed pots a few threads back. That last Tokkuri is a bit too jivey for my taste.


Chris Rywalt

February 4, 2010, 10:59 AM

Of course the pot was paddled! I thought we'd already settled that pots are feminine!



February 4, 2010, 2:22 PM

Actually, it's starting to grow on me. It has a posture like Rodin's Balzac. That is one thug of a scultpure.



February 4, 2010, 8:35 PM

This might interest you, Franklin:

Young Woman

It's a woodblock print by Kiyokata Kaburagi (1878-1973). Those who need to can enlarge the image by clicking on it.



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