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Flowers of the four seasons

Rinpa school17th century

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Art Gallery of New South Wales

The subject of 'Flowers of the Four Seasons' is a popular one in Japan where there has always been - in literature, poetry and painting - a great sensitivity to the changing of the seasons. In these screens, beautifully realised in the rich colours typical of the decorative Rinpa style, the composition is read from right to left. The groupings of flowers are arranged vertically across the panels, each group of a different density, scale and colour in a manner reminiscent of the rhythms of good cursive calligraphy. The first grouping of flowers on the extreme right is a cluster containing the pine, bamboo, plum blossom and cherry blossom known as the "Three Friends" and symbolising strength and integrity. The centre of the right screen is dominated by peonies, here a symbol of spring and a perfect foil to the chrysanthemums which are the central focus of the left screen. Chrysanthemums are the flowers of autumn and they too, like the plum blossom, are redolent with poetic associations. The variety of flowers represent the twelve months, as well as the four seasons. Included on the screens are bush clover ('hagi'), one of the seven flowers of autumn, begonia, wisteria and many others. The final panel - the left of the left screen - contains narcissus. Since it blooms in the bitter cold of the New Year season, the narcissus shares with the plum blossom the virtues of purity and perseverance. Placing it last on the screens had brought the viewer full circle, reiterating the continuity of the seasons. The Oriental concept of time is evident - time is cyclical not linear, and the screens are an affirmation of harmony and order within nature.

'Asian Art', AGNSW Collections, 1994, pg. 216-217.

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  • Title: Flowers of the four seasons
  • Creator: Rinpa school
  • Date Created: 17th century
  • Location: Japan
  • Physical Dimensions: a - right screen - plums, wisteria and peony; 154.5 x 348 cm; image a - right screen - plums, wisteria and peony; 170 x 364.4 cm; screen b - left screen - red maple tree and chrysanthemums; 154.5 x 348 cm; image b - left screen - red maple tree and chrysanthemums; 170 x 364.4 cm; screen
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Purchased 1989
  • External Link: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/282.1989.a-b
  • Medium: pair of six-panel screens; ink, colour and sprinkled gold on paper
  • Signature & Date: Signed l.l.,in Japanese ink "[artist's seal]". Not dated [left screen]. Signed l.r., in Japanese ink "[artist's seal]". Not dated [right screen].
  • Artist Country: Japan

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