Painting Edo and the Arnold Arboretum

April 15, 2021
There are two images side by side. The image on the right is a painted fan. It features two white magnolia flowers, one facing downward and one facing more upward, and several large green leaves set against a smoky gray background. The image on the right is a composite image of three photographs of a living magnolia plant, which has white petals, bright green leaves, and a magenta pink center.
Left: Suzuki Kiitsu, Magnolia, Japanese, Edo period, early to mid-19th century. Fan; ink, color, gold, and silver on paper. Harvard Art Museums, Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, TL42096.12.4. © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Right: Magnolia sieboldii 404-97*C at the Arnold Arboretum. Photos: William (Ned) Friedman; © 2016 President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we haven’t been able to welcome visitors to our special exhibition Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection since last March. But a partnership with the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University has inspired new ways of thinking about intersections between art and the natural world.

This spring, we are excited to offer even more ways to experience the Painting Edo exhibition and explore the landscape of the Arnold Arboretum!

Though the Harvard Art Museums remain closed for now, the Arnold Arboretum—Harvard’s remarkable “museum of trees”—is open to everyone, every day from sunrise to sunset, free of charge.

Planting Edo: A Field Guide

This guide pairs key plants from the Painting Edo exhibition with their counterparts from the living collections at the Arnold Arboretum. Use the guide at the Arnold Arboretum or while virtually exploring the Painting Edo exhibition to learn more about the botanical features and poetic significance of various plants.

Share your explorations with us on social media using #PlantingEdo. We will repost our favorite discoveries each week! You can download Planting Edo: A Field Guide today, free of charge.

This close-up of a painting depicts a green frog sitting on a gray-brown leaf. The frog is surrounded by blue morning glories with green leaves and soft purple flowers.
Sakai Hōitsu, Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months (detail; seventh month), Japanese, Edo period, c. 1820–28. Set of 12 hanging scrolls; ink, color, and gold on silk. Harvard Art Museums, Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, TL42096.14. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Haiku and You: Painting Edo and the Arnold Arboretum

This spring, we invite you to become part of a community of writers, sharing the spirit of haiku and experiencing the restorative power of art and nature.

In the months ahead, we will host virtual workshops and share prompts, plants, poetry, and paintings on social media, encouraging you to find inspiration for your own haiku practice in the landscape of the Arnold Arboretum and the Painting Edo exhibition.

You’ll also have the chance to become a published poet by submitting your haiku to our online gallery or tagging us on social media using #HaikuAndYou.

There are two images side by side. The left image is an ink painting. It shows a pine tree with sharp, twisted branches and long delicate needles against a gray background with accents of white. The right image is a black and white photograph of twisting pine branches with long, thin needles, set against a clear night sky.
Left: Itō Jakuchū, Old Pine, Japanese, Edo period, c. 1796. Hanging scroll; ink on silk. Harvard Art Museums, Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, TL42147.7. Photo: John Tsantes and Neil Greentree; © Robert Feinberg. Right: Pinus thunbergii 11371*G at the Arnold Arboretum. Photo: Jonathan Damery; © 2021 President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Painting Edo at the Arnold Arboretum

With the convenience of Zoom, the distance between painted plants in the galleries and their living counterparts at the Arnold Arboretum melted away, enabling curious viewers to look simultaneously at living and painted plants with curator Rachel Saunders and the Arnold Arboretum’s Michael Dosmann, Ned Friedman, and Steve Schneider.

Through this series of videos, observe works from the Painting Edo exhibition through the eyes of a botanist and an art historian and notice the botanical precision and poetic depth with which artists of Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868) captured the natural world.

  • Discover Magnolia sieboldii and Japanese black pine with Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, and Rachel Saunders, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art at the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Take a close look at hydrangeas with Rachel Saunders and Michael Dosmann, Keeper of Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum.
  • Explore the Arnold Arboretum’s Bonsai & Penjing Collection with Steve Schneider, Director of Operations and Public Programs, and Rachel Saunders.
  • Learn more about Japanese black pine in this article by curator Rachel Saunders in Arnoldia magazine.

Special thanks to Pam Thompson, Manager of Adult Education at the Arnold Arboretum, and Molly Ryan, Programs Manager at the Harvard Art Museums.

These offerings are just a few of the ways to explore and experience the landmark Painting Edo exhibition. Visit our exhibition page for more ways to engage this spring!

This photograph shows 10 painted scrolls hanging behind glass in a gallery with navy blue walls and brown hardwood floors. There are two scrolls hanging together on the left and right sides of the photograph and 6 scrolls hanging together in the middle. Each scroll features different birds and flowering plants. The paintings have identical golden yellow matting and two ties at the top. In the background, you can see two additional folding screenings being displayed on raised platforms in an adjacent space.
Installation view of Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection at the Harvard Art Museums, featuring Sakai Hōitsu’s Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months.

Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection was made possible by the Robert H. Ellsworth Bequest to the Harvard Art Museums, the Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions, the Catalogues and Exhibitions Fund for Pre-Twentieth-Century Art of the Fogg Museum, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Thierry Porté Director’s Discretionary Fund for Japanese Art, and the Japan Foundation. The accompanying print catalogues were supported by the Harvard Art Museums Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund.

Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund, Harvard University’s Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and the Department of History of Art and Architecture Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund for Art and Architecture.

An illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition. Painting Edo: Selections from the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art is a sweeping and lavishly illustrated overview of a transformative era in Japanese art-making as told through highlights from the finest private collection of Edo period painting in the United States. 

Robert and Betsy Feinberg have generously promised their collection of over three hundred works of Japanese art to the Harvard Art Museums. Judiciously assembled over more than four decades, the collection offers an exceptional opportunity to explore continuities and disruptions in artistic practice in early modern Japan. The stewardship of the collection by the museums ensures access by students, faculty, scholars, and the public, and allows for teaching, research, and further documentation of these important works. A complete catalogue of the Feinberg Collection is now available.

Share your experience:
#PaintingEdo
#PlantingEdo
#HaikuAndYou