What is Japanese Painting?

What is Japanese Painting (Nihon-ga)?

The history of the picture what is called the "Japanese painting (Nihon-ga)" today was old, and it was brought a thousand and several hundred years ago to Japan. The paint to use for the Nihon-ga is a mineral pigment crushed in the shape of powder called "Iwa-enogu", and the beauty of the color is characteristic of the Nihon-ga. The picture which is the source of the Nihon-ga does existing in the countries of East Asia, the main point of the Silk Road and that reminds us of the width of the then trade, but it is only the Nihon-ga that succeed this technique today, and it is the painting which is valuable worldwide.

The word "Nihon-ga"

"Nihon-ga" consists of two words, "Nihon" and "ga". The former means Japan, and the latter does painting. Speaking of the Nihon-ga, a traditional Sumi-e (ink brush painting), Byobu etc. are generally recalled, but actually there is not the Japanese painting as those styles before the Edo era, and it is the word made up in comparison with the Western painting for the first time in the Meiji era. It contains not only a meaning as the Japanese traditional painting, but also a meaning as the painting of the new style of the Western painting method while being in succession to the Japanese traditional painting. Today the word "Nihon-ga" does not mean to a specific picture style, and is often interpreted as the painting which is painted with Iwa-enogu.

The History of Japanese Painting

In the fifth century the Buddhism culture reached Japan, and the Chinese style painting rooted in Japan. Not only the influence of China but also that of the Buddhist mural painting in India is left to the Horyuji Hekiga (Mural paintings of Horyuji temple) , it teaches us the roots of the Buddhist art.

When it was the tenth century, the Japanese picture began to leave Chinese strong influence and tied to racial sensitivity and created styles called the Yamato-e (a meaning to the Japanese painting in old language). The Picture scroll of Genji tale in the Heian era is the typical of that. This unique picture-style called picture scroll develops greatly in a much relation with the literature in the Kamakura era. Furthermore, Yamato-e began to show the decorative characteristic called Syouhei-ga (painting on Japanese screens) in the Momoyama era. And the style called Rimpa (Rimpa School) which interwove Japanese original emotion in decorative, splendid expression was completed by prominent artists Honami Koetsu, Tawaraya Sotatsu and Ogata Korin. The Expression of the Tarashikomi and the sense of beauty settled as one of the characteristics of the Japanese traditional painting.

On the other hand, Suiboku-ga (Ink brush painting) came from China as a part of the Zen culture of the Buddhism after the 14th century. The Samurai who gained power in place of the nobles in the Muromachi era had sympathy about the Zen culture with a severe spirituality, and it became the mainstream of the then culture. The Nihon-ga had two elements : the Yamato-e and the Sumi-e.

In addition, although it was not involved in the category of the Japanese traditional painting, the fact that the Ukiyo-e prospered as common people culture in the Edo era gave European Impressionists so much influence later was a notable event. As the Ukiyo-e painter, Kitagawa Utamaro, Ando Hiroshige, Katsushika Hokusai, Toshusai Sharaku, etc. are famous globally. As the national isolation of Japan was over by the Meiji Restoration (1868) and came to join the global community, the Western art flowed in one after another.

Maruyama Shijo-ha (Maruyama Shijo School) which attached great importance to realism studied the perspective of the Western painting and technique of the realism generally and made the basics of development of the later Japanese traditional painting.

However, the structure of the Nihon-ga painted with sumi (ink) or few color (pigments) was too weak, and it was not powerful in comparison with the structure of the strong oil painting image which plastered paint. Afterwards the Japanese painter took colors and materials of the Western painting, while maintaining two bases called Yamato-e and Sumi-e to reinforce the power of expression of the Japanese traditional painting. It seemed to be the figure which challenged to the crisis of the destruction of the Japanese traditional painting by the Western painting.

After World War II, the Japanese painters devoted to research into the Italian fresco before the Renaissance, Tunhuang cave temple fresco in China. And they created various color of the Iwa-enogu (mineral pigments), and even the firmness of the screen came not to be inferior to the Western painting. However, the Suiboku-ga system gradually became old-fashioned, and the style that developed from yamato-e came to occupy the position of the mainstream of the Japanese traditional painting. Only the painting which developed from yamato-e came to be called Nihon-ga (Japanese painting), and now the Suiboku-ga is away from the mainstream of painting circles in Japan.

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