New Paintings in “Focus on the Subject”

The Four Sleepers

Next Wednesday in the Japanese gallery, you’ll find a whole new rotation of paintings to accompany the objects on view in Focus on the Subject: The Art of the Harari Collection. Because works on paper are particularly sensitive to light, we need to rotate in new ones periodically to make sure they’re preserved for future generations. But don’t worry– the new items coming on view are just as wonderful.

One new piece is Tsunemasa’s The Four Sleepers. This piece is an example of mitate-e, a genre of Japanese metaphorical images that made ironical or playful references by juxtaposing historical events and figures with contemporary ones. Here, the “four sleepers” of Buddhist imagery are replaced by geisha, providing a rich visual commentary on enlightenment and worldliness. The motif is common to both Chinese and Japanese Buddhist art, featuring the Tang dynasty monk Fengken (Bukan in Japanese), known for his eccentric habit of riding a tiger, with his companions. The striking image of three men peacefully sleeping alongside a tiger alludes to the peacefulness of enlightenment that can’t be found in the waking world. The tiger is also said to signify the full control of emotion and desire, as it is under the control of Fengken. However, in this painting there are no monks or men, but geisha in clothing that is anything but austere. Objects of entertainment surround them, including a zither and a manuscript, suggesting that the four have fallen asleep after an evening of fun– they’re definitely not eschewing worldly pleasures. This playful adaptation of a well-known image is a great example of the mitate-e tradition.

This is just one of the new paintings that will be on view starting next Wednesday– between these and the entirely new Chinese gallery, there’s plenty for even the monthly visitor to enjoy!

Top image: Tsunemasa, The Four Sleepers, Japan, c. 1745, Ink, color and gold pigment on paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Kamansky, Courtesy of Pacific Asia Museum, 1988.65.2


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