It’s the little things in “The Garden in Asia”

photo (14)Hopefully by now you’ve had the opportunity to stroll through our exhibition The Garden in Asia (if not, check out these two previous blog posts or come to the curator’s tour on Saturday, February 16 at 2 p.m.). But have you taken the time to enjoy the smaller details? The exhibition is full of them!

Above, a red lacquer tray from Japan seems a little abstract at first glance– the color isn’t that of a leaf in nature, and is small compared to the real banana leaves on which it’s modeled. But upon closer inspection, you can see a small snail resting on the leaf. It’s a whimsical detail that takes the piece back to its natural origins, recalling the various living things that would surround a banana tree. This particular plant has been historically appreciated for its large leaves  that provided shade in hot weather or shelter on rainy days, creating pleasing sounds as raindrops struck the leaves, and has appeared in numerous artists’ sketches and studies.


In ukiyo-e (or ‘pictures of the floating world’) of the Edo period, the image of a courtesan yearning for a reunion with her lover was a common subject. Here, the garden, a private domain where one’s mind freely roams, is an ideal setting for this courtesan who misses and dreams of the object of her affection. In this scroll, a courtesan seated on a bench in a garden exhales smoke from her pipe with a wistful gaze, and a small figure appears in the smoke plume as she daydreams. The tiny figure is facing away from us and from the courtesan, seemingly unaware of the woman’s affection.

These two objects certainly aren’t the only works waiting to be discovered in the exhibition– and for that matter, in the whole museum! Throughout our galleries, artists and artisans have added details and surprises to a wide range of objects. So next time, take a minute to look closely at your favorite work– you might just see something you haven’t noticed before. ~CM


Tray, Japan, 20th century, Lacquered wood, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James S. Munroe in memory of Jane Richardson Baldwin Colborn, 1991.60.8

The Pipe Dreamer (detail), Japan, Edo Period (1603-1868); c. 1760, Ink, color, gofun, paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Ross, 1985.55.5


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