An unprecedented exhibition of paintings and works of calligraphy representing the taste and patronage of Japanese emperors from the 9th to the 20th century is currently on exclusive display at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery through March 8. Organized by the Imperial Household Agency, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Japan Foundation and the Freer and Sackler galleries, "Twelve Centuries of Japanese Art from the Imperial Collections" is the first major overseas presentation of Japan's imperial holdings.
Over the centuries Japan's emperor-connoisseurs have maintained leadership as patrons, arbiters of taste, protectors and participants in the arts. "These masterpieces show how royal patronage has reflected and simultaneously influenced Japan's esthetic sensibilities," says Sackler and Freer director Milo Beach.
The 76 works in the show range from illustrated narrative hand scrolls to engaging depictions of flowers, birds and animals, such as the two hanging scrolls: Carp by Fugii Shorin (1890) and A Group of Roosters, from the celebrated series The Colorful Realm of Living Beings by Ito Jakuchu (c. 1757-67). In 1989, many of these works were made a gift to the nation and consigned to the care of the Museum of the Imperial Collections in Tokyo. "These holdings," says exhibition curator James Ulak, "contain a startling variety of works that convey the spirit of past court glory and provide invaluable insight into the cultural history of Japan."