Washington’s centennial celebrations of Japan’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees include three exhibits of masterpieces, many never seen outside Japan, plus related arts events.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival March 20 through April 27 includes “Japan Spring”, the first time that any city outside Japan hosts three major exhibitions of masterworks by distinguished Edo-period (1615–1868) artists.
Presented by the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the National Gallery of Art, each free exhibit is a retrospective of a distinctive, important artist: Hokusai, Kazunobu, and Jakuchū.
· “Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji”, now through June 17 at the Sackler, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see all images in the most famous print series of Japan’s most famous artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). There are actually 46 prints because the series was so popular that Hokusai’s publisher commissioned another ten woodblock prints, but saw no reason to change the title. Hokusai’s best-known image, “The Great Wave”, is not a tsunami but a wave like surfers seek throughout the world.
· Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples, now through July 8 at the Sackler is a selection of 100 paintings Kazunobu (1816-1863) produced within a decade, depicting miraculous interventions and superhuman activities of Buddha’s 500 disciples. Now widely regarded as one of the most impressive feats of Buddhist iconography during the Edo period, this series was largely overlooked during the 20th century.
· “Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800)”, will be displayed for one month only, March 30 through April 29, at the National Gallery. This is the first time Japan has loaned all of one of its greatest national treasures outside the country. The entire set of 30 scrolls, painted on silk by the master Edo artist Jakuchū over a decade, recently underwent a six-year restoration. Exhibition curator and Harvard professor Yukio Lippit said the scrolls are “widely considered to be the most important and remarkable ensemble of bird-and-flower paintings in the history of Japan, and possibly all of East Asia.”
These exquisite, intricate, and extremely fragile images of Buddhist paradise just must be seen before they return to Japan’s Imperial Household.
Both museums offer a wide array of related free programs:
· The National Gallery begins its Cherry Blossom Music Festival (March 31-April 29), with Japanese Taiko drummers on the West Building Mall steps; a film series “Japanese Divas” (April 6–May 5);and children’s movies beginning with the anime film”My Neighbor Totoro”on March 31, continuing on weekends through April.
· The Sackler Gallery and its adjoining Freer Gallery also present many related activities, including an opening-day celebration on March 24 featuring Edo-period music, Japanese cuisine, demonstration of Kabuki theater; and the Tenth Annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Anime Marathon: “100% Miyazaki!” (April 15); plus ImaginAsia family programs.
The Library of Congress also presents an important, fascinating art exhibit with many related events, including talks by the two curators and by former Cherry Blossom princesses, plus a “Manga” (Japanese illustrated comic books) event.
· “Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship” exhibit opened March 20, the 100th anniversary of Japan’s 1912 gift. “Sakura”, meaning blossoming cherry trees, includes watercolors of the 11 blossom varieties among the original trees; Japanese woodblock prints of landscapes with the blossoming trees; an accordion book with gorgeous Hiroshige works; and a 1939 Herblock drawing about an approaching world war.
In Japanese culture, the cherry blossoms’ beauty and brief blooming period symbolize the shortness of life.
“Japan Spring” and the National Cherry Blossom Festival are also short. So don’t miss the beauty of the blossoms and the art surrounding them for brief periods in the nation’s capital.
For more info: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. National Gallery of Art. National Cherry Blossom Festival Events. History of Japan’s 1912 cherry blossom gift: gorgeous “Cherry Blossoms: The Official Book of the National Cherry Blossom Festival” (National Geographic) by Ann McClellan, photographs by Ron Blunt, and also Trust for the National Mall and National Park Service. Embassy of Japan cherry blossom arts events.