Gallery view of the special exhibition Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection.
Painting Edo — the largest exhibition ever presented at the Harvard Art Museums — offers a window onto the supremely rich visual culture of Japan’s early modern era. Selected from the unparalleled collection of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, the more than 120 works in the exhibition connect visitors with a seminal moment in the history of Japan, as the country settled into an era of peace under the warrior government of the shoguns and opened its doors to greater engagement with the outside world. The dizzying array of artistic lineages and studios active during the Edo period (1615–1868) fueled an immense expansion of Japanese pictorial culture that reverberated not only at home, but subsequently in the history of painting in the West. In an act of extraordinary generosity, the Feinbergs have promised their collection of more than three hundred works to the Harvard Art Museums.
Expansion of Pictorial Culture
Alongside the agricultural innovation and urbanization of the Edo period came economic growth. By the late 18th century, ownership and appreciation of paintings had spread to almost all classes of Tokugawa society, from aristocrats and samurai to merchants. This expansion of the consumer base led to intense competition among painting studios, from which the Kyoto painter Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795) emerged preeminent. Ōkyo infused familiar painting subjects with new life through his gauzy, realistic style, informed by study of the natural world and by both Chinese and Western pictorialism. His many students went on to establish successful ateliers in the Shijō (Fourth Avenue) area of Kyoto, resulting in the umbrella term “Maruyama-Shijō” for this visually appealing mode of painting.