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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

Past Exhibitions

Talking in Flowers: Japanese Botanical Art

5 April – 16 July 1982

Cherry blossoms announce that spring is in the air; the plums rejoice; the lotus invite. The flowers of Japan heralded the season in this spring exhibition. Drawing mainly from its own collection, with a few selections on loan, the Institute showed a variety of Japanese botanical art that demonstrated the vitality and genius of an old and still evolving tradition. Of particular interest was a six-album suite of brush drawings from the period 1822 to 1855. Although plant subjects predominated, drawings of insects, fish, birds, animals and people were also rendered in a style that conveyed the power and versatility of the brush as the basic vehicle for artistic expression.

The Japanese woodblock-print technique, remarkably faithful in transcribing brushwork drawing, was beautifully exemplified in plates from Bird and Flower Illustrations by Imao Keinen (1845–1924). One of many artists working in that favorite Japanese genre, Keinen was a skillful and innovative designer. His delicacy and precision were well represented in these plates.

Perhaps the most brilliant period of the woodblock print (Ukiyo-e), however, was represented in Picture Book of Selected Insects by Utamaro (1753–1806), 100 Views of Edo by Hiroshige (1797–1858) and prints by the universal master Hokusai (1760–1849). Utamaro was a master of Ukiyo-e and produced landscapes, domestic scenes, portraits of women, particularly courtesans, and a few nature subjects as well as his superb insect book. To the Western art lover, Hiroshige and Hokusai were well known. Hiroshige specialized in landscape and genre but also did several bird and flower subjects. "Morning Glories" by Hokusai was a colorful woodblock print from a series of flower illustrations typical of his powerful and striking designs.

Special features of the exhibition were a suite of sumptuously colored orchid plates, individual prints by the woodcut artist Kawarazki and a group of flower paintings by contemporary artists. Although these 20th-century artworks reflected the Western influence of realism in botanical art and illustration, they were nevertheless characteristically Japanese in their decorative element. They continued the tradition of intimacy with nature in their extraordinary sense of life and gave the world of nature a language of its own.

Embellishing the gallery were changing bonsai and flower arrangements provided by the Ikenobo Society of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Bonsai Society and Pittsburgh Chapter of Ikebana International. A catalogue accompanied the exhibition.