Bakusen Tsuchida, 'Oharame Women Peddlers' (Partial) (1915), Yamatane Museum of Art [Cherry Blossom Art]

Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2020 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!

For the first time since 2018, the Yamatane Museum of Art is holding a special thematic exhibition, ‘Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2020 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!’, showcasing fifty of their most famous pieces of cherry blossom art.

[Header image: Okuda Genso, ‘Oirase Ravine: Spring’ (1987). Featured image: Bakusen Tsuchida, ‘Oharame Women Peddlers’ (Detail) (1915). Both Yamatane Museum of Art]

*Please note that due to the impact of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the Yamatane Museum of Art will be closed indefinitely from April 4, 2020*

For centuries, sakura (cherry blossoms) have played a central role in Japanese culture, from the Heian period (794-1185 AD) where aristocrats held cherry blossom parties and went in search of particularly beautiful specimens, to the Edo period (1600-1868) in which horticulturists bred several new varieties, such as the iconic Somei Yoshino. It was during this period that cherry blossom viewing, hanami, became and still is a popular and beloved tradition.

The Japanese love of the cherry tree, and the inspiration it provides, is nowhere more apparent than in Japanese artistic forms, including prose, poetry, and art. “Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2020 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!” at the Yamatane Museum of Art explores the symbology of the cherry blossom and its role in Japanese history, showcasing about 50 pieces of cherry blossom art from the museum’s collection.

Although all works come under the common theme of sakura, the motif has been expressed in a multitude of ways: single trees, famous groves or just the blossoms themselves. Some capture the feelings of impermanence associated with the blossoms’ beauty and fleeting life. Various works highlight the changing appearance of the blossoms over the day: a subtle pink in the morning sun, a brilliant white in the afternoon, and a more subdued palette for the evening. Each work lends us insight into the artist’s perception of the richly individual forms of the cherry tree.

Spring Fields (From Spring Fields, Autumn Ravine) by Ono Chikkyo (1945) [Cherry Blossom Art]

Ono Chikkyo, ‘Spring Fields’ (From Spring Fields, Autumn Ravine) (1945), Yamatane Museum of Art

There are three sections in the exhibition: ‘With the Cherry Blossoms’ which introduces works focusing on the relationship between cherry blossoms and people; ‘Places Famous for Cherry Blossoms’ which introduces works from notable cherry blossom locations in Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto, Wakayama, Tohoku, and others; and lastly ‘Painting Cherry Trees’ which presents works portraying the trees in various ways, such as landscapes of blossoms, closeups of flowers, and depictions of the majesty of the trees blooming in the night.  

According to Yukie Nagumo – the curator of the museum – and Taeko Yamazaki – the director – there are two main differences between the exhibition held two years ago and the 2020 iteration. That is, a selection of more modern works of from the museum’s collection, and an increase in the number of works illustrating human interaction with the blossoms.

Spring in Yoshino (1977) by Togyo Okumura (1889-1990) [Cherry Blossom Art]

Togyo Okumura, ‘Spring in Yoshino’ (1977), Yamatane Museum of Art

One of these more modern works of Cherry Blossom art is Spring in Yoshino (1977) by Togyo Okumura (1889-1990), depicting the eponymous Mt. Yoshino, a mountain in Nara which is covered with about 30,000 cherry trees of two hundred unique varieties. Okumura visited Mt. Yoshino three times in his life, including both during autumn time as well as to see the fresh green leaves of spring. It was on his first visit that he created this piece, crying and overwhelmed by the weight of history: “I could not see the whole.”

An example of a work depicting the relationship of people with the cherry blossoms is Oharame, Women Peddlers (1915) by Bakusen Tsuchida (1887-1936). Bakusen also visited Yoshino, as well as Ohara, to produce this marvellous painting. The painting is evocative of the style of the Momoyama period (16th century), with its use of gold and malachite green pigment, its depiction of doha (rises in the ground) and the artist’s use of moriage (a relief-like effect with gofun, a white pigment made from pulverised seashells) applied to the surface for the cherry blossoms. However, there are also notes of Renoir and Cezanne in the work. “I am convinced this is really good,” said Bakusen of the painting. His pride was justified. 

Hashimoto Meiji, "Cherry Tree in Morning Sun" (1970) Yamatane Museum of Art [Cherry Blossom Art]

Hashimoto Meiji, ‘Cherry Tree in Morning Sun’ (1970), Yamatane Museum of Art

Another masterpiece on display is Cherry Tree in Morning Sun (1970), Meiji Hashimoto’s treatment of the Miharu Takizakura, a famous thousand-year-old weeping cherry tree in Tamura, Fukushima. The story behind it is fascinating. The eastern passageway leading to the Imperial Palace’s seiden (state hall) has cedar sliding doors with two works called Sakura and Kaede (Maples). Meiji Hashimoto painted Sakura. The painting on display was commissioned by the Yamatane Museum’s founder Yamazaki Taneji and is similar in concept to that in the Imperial Palace. The differing dimensions and materials of the works have led to a different emphasis. In the palace piece, which measures 2.74 x 2.5 metres, a more decorative approach was taken as the doors would be viewed across a courtyard. In the Yamatane piece, the trunk and branches are highlighted.

The museum Cafe Tsubaki, located on the first floor, sells wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) inspired by some of the pieces on display. The wagashi are made by the Kikuya confectionary, a shop in Aoyama established in 1935, and are a unique way to ‘taste’ the cherry blossom art and indulge in a full sensory experience of Japanese culture.

Cafe Tsubaki offers wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) inspired by artworks. The wagashi is made by the Kikuya confectionary, a shop in Aoyama dating back to 1935 [Cherry Blossom Art]

Artwork-inspired wagashi from Kikuya confectionary

Aside from their obvious beauty, cherry blossoms represent the finite ephemerality of life and the interconnectedness of Everything. The spirit of hanami is now more important than ever, helping to put our existence, and crisis, into perspective.

‘Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2018 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!’ is on show at the Yamatane Museum of Art until 10 May 2020.

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