GALLERY 2600 | EAST ASIAN ART
Offering an opportunity to view works from different painting traditions rarely exhibited together, these galleries feature objects representing the major schools and artistic movements of Japan from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. They come from the extraordinary collection of Robert and Betsy Feinberg, generously promised to the museums. The Feinberg collection is particularly rich in the kinds of paintings that were popular among the merchant class during Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868). This era, which followed more than a century of political upheaval, began with the decisive military victory of warrior-statesman Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616) over his rivals, ushering in a period of stability and unprecedented economic growth. From its inception, the Tokugawa shogunate (military government) stratified Japanese society into four hierarchical classes: the samurai (warrior class) at the highest level, followed by farmers, artisans, and finally merchants, who were looked upon with disdain because their livelihood derived from other people’s labor. By the eighteenth century, however, this theoretical hierarchy no longer corresponded with economic reality, as Japan’s merchants now controlled a considerable proportion of the nation’s wealth. Though denied access to political power, the merchant class became an important new sector of consumers, and soon genre scenes reflecting its newfound affluence appeared, produced by new painting schools and artists associated neither with the shogunate, nor the imperial court.
November 16, 2014–May 31, 2015