INTRODUCTION Installation of Ancient American Gold
Acquisitions last year arrived from near and far and by many paths. A spectacular Persian royal tent with silk embroidery made for Muhammad Shah (ruled 1834–48) made its institutional debut in the Arlene M. and Arthur S. Holden Gallery. Seven wall panels form a half-circle that enfolds and dazzles visitors.
Gifts from generous donors enriched numerous aspects of the collection. Agnes Gund gave a work by the celebrated conceptual artist David Hammons, Untitled (Basketball Drawing), in honor of LeBron James. Phenomena When I Looked Away, a poured oil and enamel painting by the second-generation Abstract Expressionist Paul Jenkins, joined the American paintings collection. A gift of 38 works by the American photographer Aaron Siskind was made by Richard and Alice Thall in honor of the Robert Mann Gallery. The Print Club of Cleveland provided the funds for an early 16th-century woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and generously supported the acquisition of a hand-colored woodcut, The Nymphs, by Émile Bernard in celebration of the museum’s centennial.
The works on paper collections grew through numerous acquisitions, including drawings by Santi di Tito, John Frederick Lewis, and John Marin, and an engraving by Martin Schongauer. A portrait by the eminent Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron featuring Julia Jackson, mother of the novelist Virginia Woolf, greatly enhanced the collection of 19th-century photography. Also notable was the promised gift of half of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell’s great collection of contemporary photography.
Twelve Pre-Columbian gold objects from the Isthmian and Central Andean regions were acquired in a banner year for the collection of art from the ancient Americas. The acquisition was featured in a small exhibition in the spring.
Two Japanese hanging scroll paintings, including a rare depiction of the grounds of the Kasuga Shrine complex, one of the most important religious sites in Japan, joined the renowned Asian collection. In addition, an eight-panel folding screen, Orchids and Rocks, by Yi Ha-eung, a literati painter and regent who ruled for his son, King Gojong, from 1866 to 1873, enriched the collection of Korean art. A wood sculpture of a male power figure made by the Igbo in Nigeria, one of Africa’s richest and most important centers of artistic creation, bolsters the growing collection of African art. Acquisitions in the contemporary art area include an installation by Haim Steinbach and a video by Oliver Laric. Galleries are noted where works are currently on view.
Louise W. Mackie Curator of Textiles and Islamic Art
A rare royal Persian tent qualifies as one of the most spectacular and astonishing acquisitions of a lifetime. Royal tents were beautiful and potent symbols of imperial power and wealth throughout the greater Middle East. Rulers owned thousands of tents. They provided shelter and shade, but more importantly served essential functions in tent compounds for imperial ceremonies, travel, and military campaigns. Distinguished by size, tents could be as large as castles and were often royal gifts.
This elaborately decorated round tent with a center pole that bears the name of Muhammad Shah, who ruled Persia from 1834 to 1848 during the Qajar dynasty, continues traditions shown in Persian paintings of pleasure tents in garden settings 300 years earlier: embellished interior walls and ceiling, plain cotton exterior, and striped exterior valance. Seven of the 14 original wall panels survive, each adorned with a vase of exuberant blossoms set between robust birds, possibly see-see partridges and black francolins, under a niche suggesting an architectural arcade, and the complete ceiling with 14 radial panels enriched with the same birds amid entwined branches. A scrolling floral vine framing each wall and ceiling panel unifies the dazzling interior. A second inscription with the name Fath ‘Ali may identify the master court artist.
The tent was made in a distinctive mosaic-like technique. Decorative motifs in colorful woolen fabrics, such as vases, birds, and blossoms, were inlaid in the woolen ground cloth and secured by a few stitches to create a smooth single surface. The inlaid junctures were then concealed by lustrous silk thread in chain-stitch embroidery, which also creates branches, vines, and decorative details. It was made by professional craftsmen in a royal workshop in Rasht, located by the Caspian Sea, in a technique recorded in the 1670s that was used in Asia but seemingly not in Europe.
The sturdy tent has a solid structural framework, supported by a center pole (now modern), 14 radial straps concealed in the ceiling, leather patches with iron rings to attach guy ropes, and wooden struts between the wall panel niches. Originally, the wall panels were attached to the ceiling by a cord with loops, the equivalent of an early zipper. Currently, the tent is installed in the Arlene M. and Arthur S. Holden Gallery (gallery 234) with a special cantilevered metal armature that supports the edges of the roof and provides an apparatus for suspending the walls. When visitors enter the tent, its jewel-like interior frequently inspires a word of praise, “beautiful.”
Jane Glaubinger Curator of Prints
The Nymphs (Les Nymphes), a woodcut by Émile Bernard from 1890 that is vividly hand colored with watercolor, is known in only three impressions: this one, now in Cleveland; one in the Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, collections Jacques Doucet, with a blue sky and green foreground; and another whose location is unknown, painted in somber beige. The bright yellow background of the Cleveland impression radiates sunshine and warmth, reflecting the theme of the life-giving force of the sun and growth in nature that occupied Bernard’s friends Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, who also used yellow symbolically. Another link with these artists is that Bernard inscribed the print to their benefactor, the physician Dr. Paul Gachet.
Although Bernard dated Cleveland’s example 1889, the other two are inscribed 1890, a more logical date for The Nymphs since in 1889 the artist was back in Paris producing a set of black-and-white zincographs (lithographs printed from zinc plates), The Bretons (Les Bretonneries), that illustrate the lives of Breton women. The figures in these prints are large and stocky, an appropriate style to depict peasants whose lives are rooted in the land. The Bretons were exhibited at the Volpini café near the Exposition Universelle in the summer of 1889 together with a set of zincographs by Gauguin that were printed on brilliant canary yellow paper. The bright yellow background of Cleveland’s impression of The Nymphs emulates Gauguin’s choice of support.
The Nymphs exemplifies how Bernard quickly developed a new style of elongated, weightless forms in 1890. His fascination with the theme of nude bathers outdoors may have been stimulated by his admiration for the work of Paul Cézanne, who painted this subject numerous times. Bernard used a planar approach to the figure, a simplification of Cézanne’s efforts to reduce figures to geometric shapes, although Bernard’s graceful, almost ballet-like poses are in a completely different mood than the older painter’s more substantial bathers. Van Gogh wrote to his sister that “Bernard is trying to do elegant, modern figures in the manner of ancient Greek and Egyptian art.”
Instead of producing the meticulously printed impressions popular in late 19th-century France, Bernard favored zincography, where drawing on a zinc plate creates irregularities, and woodcut, which allows for the unique printing of each impression. Like Gauguin, whose woodcuts seem unsophisticated and handmade, Bernard carved the wood block in a rough manner and experimented with how the block was inked and printed, then hand colored impressions with watercolor, achieving a variety of effects.
Lucas Cranach the Elder was trained by his father, the painter Hans Maler. He began to make woodcuts in about 1501, and over the following several years made a number of elaborate compositions of religious and secular subjects. He began his career in Vienna, where printing had barely started, but in 1505 became court painter to Elector Friedrich the Wise of Saxony and established his workshop in Wittenberg. Now a major figure in printmaking, between 1506 and 1509 Cranach produced prints of courtly subject matter such as depictions of tournaments and a large woodcut of a stag hunt.
Friedrich the Wise had founded the University at Wittenberg in 1502, and it became one of the most important centers in Europe for humanistic and religious thought. Martin Luther was a professor there from 1512 and Cranach became his close friend. Friedrich actively encouraged Cranach’s production of prints, and his Saxon coat of arms appears prominently on most of them, which raised the status of prints to the level of aristocratic sponsorship, a critical factor in the burgeoning status of the woodcut at this time. Cranach’s prints advertised the vitality of Friedrich’s court and the magnificence of his patronage. In 1508 Friedrich granted Cranach a coat of arms—a winged serpent—which then functioned as the artist’s signature.
In 1509 Cranach, a prolific printmaker (he designed 148 woodcuts and engraved nine plates between 1505 and about 1521), produced a set of Passion woodcuts likely commissioned by Friedrich. This rare, fine impression of The Lamentation joins the only other subject from this series already in the museum’s collection, an excellent impression of The Crucifixion. Adding The Lamentation, a scene of intense emotional grief, to create a pair of Passion subjects enhances the sense of overwhelming sorrow at the death of the Savior.
Martin Schongauer was the best-known painter and engraver of the 15th century. The son of a goldsmith who was educated at Leipzig University, he established a workshop in Colmar by 1471. Schongauer was the first painter to produce a substantial number of engravings, a technique previously confined to the field of goldsmithing. While the main aim of earlier engravers had been the decorative appearance of a schematic design, his objectives were the interpretation of emotion, form, and texture, and figures set in a space clearly defined with light and shade. He developed an incredible technical facility, cutting grooves into the copper plate as if drawing with ink on paper.
Schongauer’s prints have a pious, devotional character and are distinguished by ornate drapery configurations that link them directly to the international Gothic style that flourished throughout Europe in the early years of the 15th century. The courtly elegance of Schongauer’s figures as well as their delicate facial types, gentle expressions, and amiable mood represent a final flowering of the northern Gothic spirit.
The Passion, an important set of 12 prints, illustrates the final events of Christ’s life. Christ in Limbo depicts the moment of the Savior’s appearance, when the gates of hell wondrously open, despite being guarded by devils. A triumphant Christ, bathed in radiant light and carrying the banner of the cross, strides forward. The first three rescued souls, kneeling in the front row, include Adam, who grasps Christ’s hand, Eve, and Saint John the Baptist.
Christ in Limbo was executed at the end of Schongauer’s printmaking career, when his work was characterized by restraint and lucidity. Unnecessary detail was eliminated to concentrate attention on the most salient elements of each scene, achieving a greater harmony and compositional simplicity. Here Christ, bathed in light, is highlighted and isolated against a blank background. A calm, monumental figure, Christ is contrasted with the demonic monsters he has just vanquished. An especially beautiful impression, printed when the copper plate was still unworn, Christ in Limbo exemplifies the expressive strength, exquisite style, and impeccable craftsmanship of the most important early German printmaker.
Heather Lemonedes Curator of Drawings
John Marin is considered by many to be the greatest American watercolorist of the 20th century. With bold applications of color and the use of line as a rhythmic—rather than descriptive—element, he transformed the medium of watercolor into a modernist idiom. One of the artist’s first representations of New York City, Lower Manhattan exemplifies Marin’s experimental and spontaneous style. The skyscraper depicted in the foreground is likely the Broadway-Chambers Building, designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect who designed the Woolworth Building, featured in several of Marin’s watercolors and etchings of 1913. The jagged lines that radiate from the skyscraper in Lower Manhattan suggest the ceaseless activity of urban life. In the distance, the Brooklyn Bridge—the first steel-wire suspension bridge—spans the East River. Lower Manhattan was once owned by Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer, art dealer, and steadfast champion of American modern art.
One of the masters of watercolor during the Victorian period, John Frederick Lewis was the first English artist to spend an extended period in Egypt, and his unbroken sojourn of more than nine years in Cairo is unique among his compatriots. This study is one of about a dozen surviving watercolors of temples painted on an expedition up the Nile that Lewis and his wife made in 1849–50. It depicts the ancient ruins at Edfu; a door through the pylon reveals a view of the temple beyond. Startling in its restrained power and minimal approach, the composition is remarkably modern. The tan-colored paper provides the composition’s basic palette, evoking the sandstone blocks used to build the temple and the hue of the surrounding expanse of desert. Lewis delineated the temple’s famous hieroglyphics with pen and ink. A rectangle of azure watercolor representing the sky glimpsed through the doorway of the pylon is the most vivid passage in the drawing.
This exquisite drawing on blue paper, executed in pen and ink and wash and extensively heightened with white, was made by the Florentine painter Santi di Tito. The subject—Agony in the Garden—is related to that of an altarpiece the artist painted in 1591 for the church of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi in Florence. Santi’s interpretation closely adheres to New Testament descriptions of the event. After the Last Supper and immediately before his arrest, Christ retired to the Mount of Olives to pray. The drawing depicts Christ on a hillside beseeching an angel while his disciples Peter, James, and John sleep beside the garden wall. In the distance, a crowd led by Judas approaches.
Beau Rutland Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art
In 2015, the department of contemporary art acquired more than ten remarkable works for the collection. Many of them were generously gifted to the museum by patrons or the artists themselves. David Hammons is one of the most influential and prolific American artists today. He has ably critiqued notions of race and class since the 1970s. He uses unconventional and symbolically loaded materials: hair clippings from barbershops, hair grease, fried chicken, John Coltrane’s music, snowballs, paper bags, dirt, toy trains. Throughout his career he has displayed and performed his works on city streets, in vacant lots, and in public parks more often than in commercial galleries. The Basketball Drawings are an ongoing series of works on paper by Hammons that speak to both the artist’s concerns with social issues and his examination of art historical traditions. In each instance, the drawing is made by repeatedly bouncing a basketball coated in graphite upon the surface of the paper, leaving marks of Hammons’s performative action. Untitled (Basketball Drawing) from 2002 was generously gifted by Agnes Gund in honor of LeBron James to recognize the significance of his return to the city of Cleveland. Within this particularly striking example from the series, Hammons wields the chance material with the precision of a finely sharpened pencil.
Another notable acquisition of 2015 is My Home Town, a large-scale painting by the Cleveland-born and -based artist Michelangelo Lovelace Sr. This 1998 work depicts an imaginative panorama with the Cleveland skyline in the background and a crowd of people gathering in the foreground. A street divides the foreground scenery into an “East Side” and a “West Side.” The left portion of the canvas is populated largely by African American citizens, the right side solely by white people. Lovelace left the center of the canvas spare aside from a few heterogeneous social interactions. His figurative paintings can be read as vibrant and candid commentaries on the city’s sociopolitical and cultural heritage and current state. Despite the work’s critical tone, the painting also offers an optimistic perspective through the figures seen coming together at its center.
In addition, the museum purchased two major works of contemporary art: Wild Things (2011), a wall-based sculpture by Haim Steinbach, and Untitled (2014–15), a mesmerizing video by the Austrian artist Oliver Laric that was included in the notable 2015 New Museum triennial. Both works explore the intersections of visual and consumer culture.
Barbara Tannenbaum Curator of Photography
Among the 305 photographs added to the collection last year were a masterful 19th-century British portrait, mid-20th-century American abstractions, and a nine-foot-tall contemporary conceptual work depicting the museum.
Victorian-era British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron made many contributions to the history of photography, prominent among them the advancement of portraiture from a faithful likeness to an evocation of a sitter’s inner essence. A haunting portrait by Cameron purchased last year depicts Julia Jackson, her beloved niece, namesake, goddaughter, and favorite model. A renowned beauty of the era who became the mother of seven children, including Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, Jackson is shown at age 21 in April 1867, just weeks before her wedding. In the Victorian era, marriage signified the important passage from girl to woman. Cameron’s bold frontal close-up conveys reflection and questioning, as if Jackson were peering into a mirror rather than posing before a camera.
Most intriguing of all is the fact that this image is a reversal of a portrait of Jackson donated to the museum in 1996 by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. Mann, Julia Jackson Duckworth (1846–1895), also made in 1867. The pair constitutes half of a group of four works—one “original” and three variants—all based on the same negative. Cameron experimented with reversals on only seven other negatives; this portrait of her niece is her most complex exploration of the process. With each reversal, sharpness and clarity diminish but the sense of mystery grows. Cameron’s usual soft focus, enhanced by the two-step removal of this image from the original negative, imbues this print with a sense of becoming that is appropriate to Jackson’s imminent transition into womanhood.
Cameron seems to have considered all four interpretations based on the original negative as valid, making several prints of each of them. They demonstrate that in the 1860s, an age when most photographers were seeking clear and faithful reproductions of nature, she was thinking conceptually about the use of the negative and that an overarching aim of her photography was the creation of a formally powerful image. These were extraordinarily bold, innovative, and modern practices for that time, when photography was still in its infancy.
By the mid-20th century, when influential American photographer Aaron Siskind was exhibiting and teaching, fine art photographers had begun to move away from depiction toward personal expression and even abstraction. A group of 38 Siskind photographs was generously given to the museum in 2015 by Richard and Alice Thall in honor of the Robert Mann Gallery. A high school English teacher who received a camera as a wedding gift, Siskind took up photography and soon became a serious and passionate practitioner. In 1932 he joined the Photo League, a hub for social documentary work. Around 1940 he began to develop his own style, entering photography into a dialogue with contemporary avant-garde painting, especially Abstract Expressionism. In his images of nature, architecture, and the urban environment, Siskind explored abstraction, symbolism, gesture, and texture. The donated works, most of which are vintage prints, survey his work from the 1940s through the late 1980s—from his characteristic abstractions to still lifes and rare figural images.
Almost nine feet tall, The Thinkers by the Brazilian-born American artist Vik Muniz has as its ostensible subject a couple posing by the museum’s cast of Rodin’s The Thinker in the late 1930s or early 1940s. But this monumentally scaled color photograph is not as much a comment on the museum or Rodin as it is a meditation on the meaningfulness of photography in the daily lives of individuals. It explores the roles photographs can play during their history as objects and images, and the way artists construct images and viewers “read” them.
The overall image in The Thinkers was taken from a snapshot in the artist’s collection of vernacular images. An inscription handwritten on the snapshot’s bottom titles it “The Thinkers.” Muniz’s version of the couple’s memento is a photograph of a collage he composed from fragments of photographs taken from many people’s family albums, bought in flea markets and antique shops over the past decade. The artist observed that as digital photographs and cell phones became prevalent, people began to dispose of printed images of their ancestors. Just as the museum is a storehouse for civilization’s cultural past, Muniz’s The Thinkers is a repository for individuals’ pasts, and an encouragement to think about the nature and uses of photography then and now.
Mark Cole Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
For more than a half century Paul Jenkins enjoyed a fruitful career as an Abstract Expressionist painter, achieving popular success both nationally and internationally. Born and raised in Kansas City, he moved to Ohio during his high-school years and launched a brief stint as a professional actor, appearing at Cain Park Theater in Cleveland Heights before being awarded a fellowship at the Cleveland Play House, where he spent the bulk of his time painting sets. In his rented room after work, he developed a burgeoning interest in watercolor.
After his discharge from the US Naval Air Corps during World War II, Jenkins moved to New York to study painting. He first rose to prominence in this new vocation during the early 1950s, exhibiting on multiple occasions at galleries in New York and Paris. Over the next several decades he shuttled between studios in each locale, continuing to show his prolific output frequently on both sides of the Atlantic. At the time of his death at the age of 88 in 2012, Jenkins was one of the last surviving members of the so-called “second generation” of Abstract Expressionists.
A large composition featuring gracefully intermingled pools of effervescent color offset against dusky fields, Phenomena When I Looked Away is among Jenkins’s most critically acclaimed and admired early works, demonstrating his considerable command in exploiting the fluidities of oils and enamels poured onto primed canvas. Its nebulous forms—the most prominent of which are arranged dynamically along a diagonal axis—run a textural gamut from thick and coagulated to thin and translucent. The painting’s palette is varied yet cohesive, incorporating reds, oranges, yellows, blues, blacks, whites, and umbers. In terms of iconography, the work references the artist’s interest in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s studies in perception, in particular the observation that afterimages persist on the retina when one turns quickly from bright light toward darkness—a sensation approximated in the painting’s composition and color scheme. In fact, Jenkins’s original title for the composition was Phenomena When G Looked Away, with “G” alluding to Goethe.
Constantine Petridis Curator of African Art
Aside from adding a prime example of Igbo art to our collection, this male figure introduces a genre with meaningful contextual references that far transcend the Igbo cultural-ethnic boundaries in southeastern Nigeria. Depicting a man seated on a one-legged stool, holding a cutlass in one hand and a human skull turned upside down in the other, this portable figure represents a sculptural genre that the Igbo call ikenga. It would have stood at the center of a man’s personal shrine, receiving prayers and sacrifices in return for the ancestors’ support and guidance, and thus helping him to achieve success in any undertaking.
The Cleveland ikenga figure wears an elaborate headdress composed of two curving, interconnected horn-like extensions, with three projecting cone shapes on either side of the face representing pieces of chalk used in rituals. The horns, which some say are those of a ram, underline the image’s male gender and reinforce ikenga’s preoccupation with masculinity. The figure’s forehead and temples are graced with parallel incisions imitating local scarification patterns known as ichi, and its open mouth exposes long pointed teeth. The ichi scars signal that the depicted man represents a high-ranking member of one of the many male associations of title holders. The white color around the eyes, derived from chalk, signifies purity and protection, and refers to the benevolence of the spirits.
The figure’s reductive rendering provides it with a contained power suggestive of its purpose. Its “simplified naturalism,” as art historian Herbert M. Cole describes it in his recent Igbo monograph, locates the sculpture’s origin in the central Igbo region (around the cities of Awka and Onitsha). Its recognition as an outstanding representative of the Igbo ikenga genre can be inferred from its prestigious publication and exhibition record. The fact that it was previously owned by the French collector, curator, and author Jacques Kerchache (1942–2001)—who would have acquired it in Nigeria in the late 1960s—offers further testimony to its quality. Kerchache’s reputation as a taste-maker was established when he became the leading force behind the integration of what the French like to refer to as “first arts” in the Louvre Museum in 2000.
Susan E. Bergh Curator, Pre-Columbian and Native North American Art
One of the museum’s splashiest acquisitions in 2015 was a group of 12 ancient American gold objects, four from the central Andean region (today mainly Peru) and the rest from the Isthmian region (now Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia). Both areas are famous in the history of indigenous American metallurgy, a reputation that stems from the artistic refinement and technical ingenuity of the precious-metal objects they produced.
For the most part, ancient Americans used gold to create personal ornaments worn by rulers and other elites. Many display complex imagery that, although not well understood today, likely had political and religious import. The material itself also had symbolic meanings. In the Isthmian region, for instance, gold seems to have been associated with positive moral behavior as well as with the cosmic forces from which political authority flowed, especially the sun.
The six new Colombian objects include a huge, arrestingly abstracted figural pendant in the Tolima style. The figure’s head and X-shaped body may take inspiration from the human form but other features, such as the long tail, are animal-like. A flamboyant, bi-lobed pectoral from the Calima region centers on an enigmatic human head with squinting eyes and ear and nose ornaments, the latter so large it obscures the lower part of the face. Two Sinú (Zenú) finials, each with a thimble-like cap that probably fit over the end of a staff, feature an alert, perky owl with an impressive crest and two exquisite deer that hold human-like hands over their chests. (Two additional Colombian objects are not illustrated.)
Four gold beakers are the first objects in the galleries from the Lambayeque (Sicán) people of Peru’s north coast. The largest of the museum’s new examples takes the shape of a head that, for unknown reasons, appears upright only when the beaker rests on its rim. The head is interpreted as the visage of either the culture’s principal deity—its divinity signaled by its feline-like fangs––or the deified founder of the Lambayeque ruling dynasty. Two smaller beakers feature either high-relief frogs or shells that represent Spondylus, the red-orange thorny oyster greatly prized by pre-Hispanic Andean societies. (A third small beaker is not illustrated.) If such beakers were used in life—that is, not created exclusively for the lavish tombs in which they have been found in great quantities—they may have figured in feasting events that were central to late pre-Hispanic life.
The final two objects, from Costa Rica or Panama, include a memorable jaguar pendant that holds a severed limb in its fanged mouth. Nasty but precious, the pendant’s appeal stems in part from the essentialized, almost cartoon-like rendering of the feline. All of the ornaments are on display in the ancient Americas galleries.
All of these works were acquired through the Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund.
Sinéad Vilbar Curator of Japanese and Korean Art
Frequently selected as residences by divine beings, mountains play an important role in the iconography of medieval Japanese paintings associated with the veneration of kami, deities belonging to a religious tradition known today as Shinto. The depiction of Mount Mikasa and behind it the Kasuga mountain range, located in Nara, Japan, provides a key visual link between two paintings acquired by the museum last year. One of these is a remarkably large topographical presentation of the Kasuga Grand Shrine (Kasuga Taisha), with the five kami of the site shown riding upon clouds at the painting’s top; the other is a unique image of the descent of two groups of celestial beings into the precincts of the shrine. In the second painting, only the mountains, with the sun shining behind them, and a diminutive red shrine entrance gate (torii) identify the setting as Kasuga. The focus of the painting is on the stars of Ursa Major, found in the upper tier, and figural embodiments of planets such as Venus, Mercury, and Saturn, among those in the lower tier.
In the other painting, the mountains shelter the four principal shrines of Kasuga and the Wakamiya Shrine, depicted to the upper right of the main shrines. Wakamiya, or the Young Prince, is portrayed above facing the other four kami in his Buddhist guise as the bodhisattva Manjushri, or Monju in Japanese. He is said to have been the child of the third and fourth kami of Kasuga. Although the painting is close to 700 years old, many of its subtle details remain legible, such as the tiny deer that amble through the lower portion of the shrine’s grounds and the specific structures of the shrine complex. Indeed, it is the largest and best preserved example of its type outside of Japan.
Sooa Im McCormick Assistant Curator of Asian Art
Yi Ha-eung (1820–1898), the painter of the eight-panel folding screen Orchids and Rocks, was one of the most influential men in late 19th-century Korea. Acting as the regent for his son, King Gojong (1852–1919), who ascended the throne at age 13, Yi ruled Korea from 1866 to 1873 and remained the axis of political power for the next two decades. In addition to his illustrious political career, Yi was a celebrated artist and a leader of the revival of literati art at the time. In particular, he was recognized as the master of orchids, one of the “Four Gentlemen” (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo) themes in the East Asian painting tradition.
Yi relied solely on monochrome ink to depict the curvilinear silhouettes of cymbidium orchid leaves dramatically hanging down from cliffs. Growing in wilderness and redolent with fragrance, orchids were often associated with the perseverance of principled gentlemen, and thus became one of the most popular subjects of literati paintings during the Song Dynasty in China (960–1279). After the “barbaric” Mongol conquest of China, scholar-painters who maintained loyalty to the fallen Song dynasty began to render orchids exclusively in monochrome ink, the primary medium of calligraphic writings.
As the last man of letters who strove to preserve Korea’s sovereignty from foreign imperialist aggressions at the turn of the 20th century, Yi painted “Ink Orchid” as if reminding himself and his fellow intellectuals of the importance of steadfastness during times of hardship. Yi’s pairing of wild orchids with rocks, which symbolize strength and endurance, perhaps was a personal artistic choice reflecting his isolated situation, one that required him to be patient and stay strong. By the time Yi painted the screen, he had been thrown out of power and had to endure emotional hardship over his estranged relationship with his son, King Gojong.
On the upper right corner of the far left panel, Yi wrote a short inscription stating that he painted the work at the age of 80. His mature brushwork demonstrates vigor within grace and delicacy. Yi’s Orchids and Rocks celebrates the enduring legacy of literati art, which had flourished for more than a thousand years in East Asia. And in Yi’s own career, it is one of the very last pages of his artistic autobiography, written after his fall from power, which allowed him to solely pursue the fragrance of ink.