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The Rinpa tradition

Rinpa, literally ‘School of [Kō]rin’, holds a unique position within Japanese art history. The artists of this lineage worked with diverse media – painting, ceramics, lacquerware and textiles – and they did so outside an orthodox line of succession.

Rinpa developed in the imperial capital of Kyoto in the early 1600s under the tutelage of Kōetsu and Sōtatsu, who updated the courtly aesthetics of the Heian period (794–1185) to forge a new visual vocabulary. In the 1700s, Ogata Kōrin and his younger brother Kenzan drew inspiration from the art of earlier masters to develop a decorative style that appealed to an emerging literate bourgeois clientele. Later, in the 1800s, Hōitsu assembled materials for a Rinpa genealogy and adapted its style to the sensibilities of the urbane audience in Edo (now Tokyo). From the end of the 1800s, painters of the Hōitsu line infused fresh, subtly modern energies into the Rinpa style.

However, as seen in the works in the exhibition, the motifs and themes in the Rinpa repertoire remained relatively constant throughout its long history: flowers of the four seasons, the natural world, as well as scenes from Japanese courtly literature and poetry. The preference for simplified shapes, bold designs and decorative patterning is also a hallmark of much of Rinpa art.

Ogata Kōrin Incense wrapping paper with design of a willow tree 1704–11, hanging scroll: colour on silken paper covered with gold, 33.5 × 24.5 cm, Hosomi Museum, Kyoto