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.
By the early 18th century, the new shogunal capital of Edo (present-day Tokyo) was the largest city in the world. After centuries of conflict and unrest, the growing stability and affluence of the period encouraged an efflorescence in the arts. Artists creatively juxtaposed past and present, eternal and contingent, elegant and vulgar in a wide range of formats and styles, from brilliant polychrome compositions to monochromatic inkwork. Painting Edo explores how the period, and the city, articulated itself by showcasing paintings in all the major formats—including hanging scrolls, folding screens, sliding doors, fan paintings, and woodblock-printed books—from virtually every stylistic lineage of the era, to tell a comprehensive story of Edo painting on its own terms.
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 will be published by the museums in March 2021.
Organized by the Harvard Art Museums. Curated by Rachel Saunders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art, Harvard Art Museums; with Yukio Lippit, the Jeffrey T. Chambers and Andrea Okamura Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University.
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.
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Take a virtual tour of Painting Edo on Google Arts & Culture.
Learn more about the exhibition in our series of videos on Vimeo, including an introduction by Rachel Saunders, thematic Art Talks, a special series of conversations in collaboration with the Arnold Arboretum, a recording of the opening night lecture “Into the Kaleidoscope: Painting in Edo Japan” by Timon Screech (SOAS University of London), and more.