Japanese art from the 15th to the 19th century
In collaboration with the Japanese Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, the Helsinki City Art Museum had a historic exhibition of old Japanese art at its Meilahti galleries. The exhibition presented screens and ink paintings from the 15th to the 19th century by Zen monk Sesshû and his followers.
Sesshû (1420—1506) was a Zen monk, teacher and the most important ink painter of the Muromachi period (1338—1573). During this period, Japanese culture experienced a profound change, and one of the main catalysts to it was the increasing cultural role of Zen Buddhism. Sesshû, who is also known as Sesshû Tôyo, studied the technique of ink painting in China. After returning to his hometown Yamaguchi, he developed a new expressive style based on his studies, which became the foundation of Japanese ink painting. With superb mastering of tonal scale, Sesshû's monochrome ink paintings depict landscapes, Zen Buddhist teachings, flowers and animals. His followers founded the Unkoku School which dedicated itself to protect and develop the tradition established by the Master.
The works in the exhibition presented an extensive overview of the art of Sesshû and his followers. Sesshû’s works are considered important cultural properties in Japan, and are on loan from the collections of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art. This is the first time they were seen outside Japan. A catalogue was published in connection with the exhibition, and it included an article on Sesshû and his followers by Tsunenori Fukushima, an expert of Sesshû’s painting. The catalogue also included introductory texts on the paintings, which have been written by Minoru Watada who is a researcher at the Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art.
Helsinki is a European City of Culture in 2000. The exhibition is a part of the year of culture programme. It has also received support from the Japan Foundation.