The "once-in-a-lifetime" exhibition, The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master, may be seen to great advantage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it will be complemented and given further context by a remarkable permanent collection of Japanese art. Prominent in the Museum's East Asian galleries are exquisitely painted scrolls and screens, decorative arts and fine modern design, as well as evocative period architectural structures, that together present the achievements of Japanese artists from the 12th through the 20th century.
Koetsu was an active participant in tea gatherings, which were the literary and cultural salons of his day. Contemporary Japanese connoisseurs of tea culture are avid collectors of Koetsu's works, which include incense containers, calligraphy, and teabowls--all items associated with the tea ceremony. A highlight of the Museum's permanent galleries is the Ceremonial Teahouse (c. 1917) named "Evanescent Joys" (Sunkaraku in Japanese), which was brought to Philadelphia from Japan in 1928 and is surrounded by the Baldeck Garden, featuring bamboo and other Japanese plants. Beside the "Evanescent Joys" teahouse in the SmithKline Beecham Gallery (244) is the Buddhist Temple of the Attainment of Happiness (Shofukuji), which was established in 1398 and repaired in the latter half of the 17th century.
Recent acquisitions of Japanese art by the Museum include a pair of fusuma paintings from the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), examples of calligraphy by literati painters Ike no Taiga and Nukina Kaioku, a 16th-century Iga ware tea storage jar, and a lacquer writing box designed by Koetsu. In July of 1999, the Museum acquired another masterwork by Koetsu: a spectacular 27-foot-long scroll, decorated with gold and silver wood-block designs of ivy, grasses and wisteria, and brushed in graceful calligraphy with classical Japanese love poem from the Shinkokin wakashu Imperial Anthology (c. 1610). The scroll was acquired in celebration of the Museum's upcoming 125th anniversary, in the year 2001.
The extensive collection of East Asian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art originated in the American public's fascination with all things "Oriental" evident at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876--in fact, a black Raku-ware teabowl featured in The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu was exhibited in the Centennial Exposition, where it was purchased by the South Kensington Museum (now known as the Victoria and Albert). Today, the Philadelphia Museum's galleries of East Asian Art present an evolving array of installations, drawn from the Museum's rich collections, that illustrate and explore many facets of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian art.
Three centuries of ceramics and fine hardwood furniture from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are among the celebrated components of the Museum's collection, while the vast Reception Hall from a Nobleman's Palace (also from the Ming dynasty) and a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) Scholar's Study help us to see objects in their original contexts. Acquisitions, such as a pair of Imperial bowls dating to the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722) and a 16th- century Ming dynasty painting table, have added further distinction to the Chinese galleries.
The Museum's collection of Korean art has also been richly augmented over the past decade, and includes important examples of Korean ceramics, lacquer and sculpture. A particular highlight is a rare 15th-century cast-iron Tiger, acquired in 1995.
Recent major exhibitions have included Quest for Eternity: Chinese Ceramic Sculptures (1987), and Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950 (1994), which traveled to three European venues as well as to Japan. From July 29 to October 29, 2000, the Department of East Asian Art will present The Arts Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master, the first exhibition in the United States of calligraphy, lacquer and ceramics by the celebrated 17th-century artist.