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The art of Japanese screen painting

Maruyama ÔKYO Cranes c1770-c72 (detail)

The folding screen is one of the most distinctive and beautiful forms of Japanese art.

This exhibition displays highlights from the Gallery’s outstanding collection of Japanese screens, dating from the 17th to the 19th century.

Known in Japanese as byobu (literally 'protection from the wind’), screens served many purposes: as room partitions, as settings for special events and as backdrops for dignitaries. They offered large and inviting surfaces for decorative painting and many of the finest Japanese artists worked in the format.

Featured in the exhibition are several examples from the 'golden age’ of Japanese screen painting, the period from the late 16th to the 17th century, when Japan was unified by a new class of military leaders after a century of civil war. The brash new samurai rulers sought an ostentatious display of their power and wealth and commissioned large numbers of screens for display in their towering castles and grand residences. These screens typically reflected the grandiose tastes of their patrons, with striking ink brushstrokes, vivid colours and brilliant gold leaf backgrounds.

The exhibition also highlights the rich developments in screen painting that came about after the unification of Japan was completed under the Tokugawa shoguns, who ruled from 1615 until 1868. The peace and stability of Tokugawa rule, and the economic prosperity it generated, encouraged painters of various schools to create screens in many different styles – not just for the samurai and aristocratic elites, but for wealthy farmers, artisans and merchants.

Colourful screens depicting dynamic scenes of everyday life in the pleasure quarters of the major cities, detailed depictions of the flora and fauna of the four seasons, and boldly stylised decorative screens in quintessential Japanese style are also included.

6 Nov 2004 – 6 Feb 2005

Free admission

Upper Asian gallery