Sato Sakura Gallery and Ronin Gallery will once again transcend medium in their second collaborative exhibition, Animals: An Enduring Tradition. Under the theme doubutsu-ga or “animal pictures,” they will consider the humor, beauty, and mystery of the animal world as represented in 19th and early 20th century woodblock prints and contemporary Nihonga paintings. With each gallery a leader in their respective field, this exhibition provides a rare opportunity to explore these works side-by-side.
Across the centuries, animals have held an important place in Japanese art. Through the lens of Buddhism and Shinto, animals provide a worldly connection to the divine. In secular art, their allegorical resonance spans personal identity to cultural history. From folktales of foxes gathered in firelight in ukiyo-e to monumental elephants in contemporary Nihonga painting, the animal world captures the imagination of artists and audiences alike.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” captured the vibrant popular culture of Japan’s capital. At the hands of Edo’s artists, animal motifs played diverse roles. They symbolized the changing of seasons, shrouded political critiques, or indulged the viewer in tales of the supernatural. Whether observed or imagined, ukiyo-e artists rendered animals in the spirit of the floating world.
Following the start of the Meiji period (1868-1912) and the establishment of Nihonga–a Japanese painting style using mineral pigments–works portraying animals both familiar and fantastic were formally classified as a unique genre. Just as in bird and flower imagery, Nihonga masters’ composed the beauty of the animal world with an age-old reverence for nature, for all living things, and for the fragility of life.
Although separated by centuries and artistic techniques, the ukiyo-e prints and Nihonga paintings shown side by side during this special exhibition are united by a shared fascination. Viewed together, these works present the breathtaking diversity and splendor of the animal in Japanese art.