Feathers, Flowers, Talons and Fangs
Fierce tigers and awe-inspiring dragons - these subjects hardly seem to fit into the same category as delicate songbirds like the nightingale, and blossoms as ephemeral as the cherry. Even so, a wide array of flora and fauna and bugs and beasts appears in Japanese prints of the genre traditionally known as "birds and flowers" (kacho). These Edo-period prints (1603 - 1867) reflect the richness and beauty of nature as perceived by some of Japan’s greatest printmakers.The profound Japanese appreciation for the natural world is mirrored in many aspects of Japanese art and literature. Matsuo Basho (1644 - 94), considered the greatest author of haiku poetry of the Edo period, sets the stage for appreciation of the works on view here as he explains his understanding of the relation between man, nature, and poetry: For a person who has the [poetic] spirit, everything he sees becomes a flower, and everything he imagines turns into a moon. Those who do not see the flower are no different from barbarians, and those who do not imagine the flower are akin to beasts. Leave barbarians and beasts behind; follow the ways of the universe and return to nature.(Trans. in Makoto Ueda, Literary and Art Theories in Japan. Cleveland: 1967, pp. 147 - 48.)This selection of approximately 60 works is drawn from the gift to the Museum of about 720 outstanding bird-and-flower prints (kachoga) donated by Mrs. John D. (Abby Aldrich) Rockefeller, Jr., in 1934/38. Few collections can rival the depth and scope of RISD’s holdings, which are exceptional and span the development of kachoga during the Edo period (1603 - 1867). We invite you to take this rare opportunity to savor the lush visual content of these wonderful prints and enrich your understanding of the Japanese printmaking tradition.
Feathers, Flowers, Talons, and Fangs: Power and Serenity in Japanese Nature Prints is organized by chronology and theme. Roughly chronological groupings fill the two long outer walls. The inner and the end walls are hung with prints and paintings that focus on specific themes.
Titles of artworks are given in Japanese only when a Japanese title actually appears on the object. Unless otherwise noted, the Japanese poetry was translated by Yoshinori Munemura. The Chinese translations were made by Deborah Del Gais with the assistance of Huang I-fen. Transcriptions of the Japanese poetry are based on the texts cited in Tadashi Kobayashi, et al. Yomigaeru bi, hana to tori to, Rokkufera ukiyo-e korekushon ten/Four Hundred Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints from the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Collection of Japanese Prints. Tokyo: 1990. Please note that the poetry on the privately commissioned prints (surimono) has not been translated due to its complexity.