Literati painting, known in Japanese as bunjinga or nanga, is a type of ink painting popular in China, Korea, and Japan. The subject matter includes landscape and selected plants.
Literati painting became popular in Japan in the Tokugawa period, thanks to imported paintings and woodblock-printed painting manuals from China. For more explanation of literati painting in Japan see here.
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Tōyōga Painter, Nihonga Artist
Taiwan Government-General Library
Nanzenji Temple, Kyoto
Kabayama Elementary School, location of the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition
Guo Xuehu displayed his paintings in the tōyōga division of the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. Nihonga painter and juror, Araki Jippo, made following comments on works in the tōyōga division at the salon in 1935:
I have heard that at the first and second Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition there were some extremely crude literati landscapes and flower paintings. Today, works on display have progressed and aren't any different from contemporary nihonga. It is truly a remarkable development (Araki 1935, 58).
Already in 1927, Japanese art critic, Ōsawa Sadayoshi (1886-?), suggested that the division itself was improperly named and should be called nihonga instead (Yen 2007, 86). Also, when Taiwanese tōyōga artists submitted their paintings to the salons in Tokyo in the 1930s and early 1940s, their works were on display in the nihonga division.
To address this conflation of nihonga and tōyōga, art historian Yen Chuanying has proposed an expanded definition of nihonga for the colonial period. She has described nihonga as painting with Eastern qualities under Japan's leadership (Yen 2009, 296; see also Lin 2008, 145). Similarly, Jason Kuo has argued that the naming of tōyōga division reflected Japan's ambitions to best represent East Asian art (Kuo 2000, 36).
Yen's political take on nihonga takes into account nihonga's popularity in Taiwan as well as its material affinity to painting in other East Asian countries vis-a-vis oil painting. It points to the cultural imperialism inherent in the official exhibitions' and Japanese artists' promotion of nihonga in the colonies. I argue that in the process Japanese artists lost their monopoly on nihonga. By the 1930s, nihonga became a creative medium for some Taiwanese Chinese artists. The naming of the tōyōga division helped to obscure this fact.
The shift in the meaning of nihonga became even more apparent in the early 1940s, when art critics in Japan began to discuss the implementation of the ideals of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Daitōa kyōeiken) in art. Some art critics found it difficult to praise paintings at the metropolitan salon simply for depicting ideologically relevant and politically correct subject matter. So, they were relieved to notice paintings by young Korean and Taiwanese artists in the nihonga division. Art critics envisioned these colonial artists as the vanguard, leading the metropolitan salon to becoming a center for all cutting-edge artists from each region of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the near future (Kolodziej 2018, 217-218; Ōyama and Kimura 1942, 37). Such comments suggest that, under the wartime regime and imperialization policies, art critics began to imagine the boundaries between Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese art in new ways.
One of Guo Xuehu's most striking works is "Solitude" (also translated as "Silence," jakukyō in Japanese) from the 1933 Taiwan salon. This work is said to have been inspired by Guo's visit to the Nanzen Temple in Kyoto, during his first trip to Japan in autumn of 1931 (Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1989, 25). This painting includes typical elements of a literati landscape, with mountains, a waterfall, and trees. Yet, the unusual composition and execution in all encompassing dark color make it appear so fresh and modern, foreshadowing developments of postwar nihonga.
Guo Xuehu did not study art in Japan for any extended period, nor did he exhibit his works there in the prewar period, unlike some of his more wealthy peers. The Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, the Taiwan Government-General Library, and the community of Japanese-settler artists in Taipei brought him into the purview of Japan's imperial art world. His paintings shared the stylistic and thematic concerns with nihonga artists, pushing the boundaries of the medium, and redefining its very premises. By rendering the distinction between nihonga and tōyōga superfluous, his work complicates our understanding of nihonga as simply "Japanese-style painting" or neo-traditional painting.
media/guo xuehu 1928 scenery near yuanshan.jpg
Guo Xuehu's Early Career and Paintings
Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition; nihonga; seiyōga; tōyōga; art historians
Kabayama Elementary School, location of the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition
Born in 1908, Guo Xuehu belongs to the first generation of artists in Taiwan who grew up under the Japanese colonial rule and who achieved professional recognition at the annual Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition (est. 1927). He traveled for the first time to Japan in 1931, visiting museums, temples, and artists in Kyoto and Tokyo. He returned to Japan in the 1950s and then moved there permanently in 1964. In 1978 he settled in Richmond, California. He passed away in 2012 (Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1989, 25; National Museum of History 2008).
The word "artist" doesn't have apparent spatial connotations like the word "migrant." Yet, artists often travel or resettle in search of art education, subject matter, or art markets. More importantly, artists shape and mediate our understanding of place by representing landscapes and people in their art. Art historians evoke place when referring to an artist's country of origin, nationality, or ethnicity. They (we!) often unselfconsciously reinforce these spatial categories when working within an established canon.
Furthermore, art historians divide artworks into location-derived categories. For example, painting in Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century has been divided into two categories: nihonga and seiyōga. Both of these categories evoke spatial entities, "Japan" and "the West" respectively. Artists and bureaucrats in Japan established these two categories in response to West's cultural imperialism. Institutions such as exhibitions, art associations, and art schools, upheld this division of painting into nihonga and seiyōga. However, the spatial associations of these two terms work to obscure rather than illuminate the actual artistic practice. Nihonga and seiyōga paintings share many stylistic and thematic similarities and the boundaries between them were often fluid. Artists in Japan debated the meanings of each category and many artists engaged in both media. Both categories reflect a Japan-centric view of global art in the time of empire.
This pathway examines Guo Xuehu's early career to illuminate how the artistic infrastructures of the Japanese empire influenced his early development as an artist and how, in turn, his work shaped the boundaries of nihonga. Guo Xuehu submitted his paintings to the tōyōga division of the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. The term tōyōga evokes the spatial category of "the East" or "the Orient." However, paintings displayed in this category in Taiwan excluded literati painting. Instead, they centered nihonga works as the present and future of East Asian art and a worthy counterpart to oil painting. Ultimately, by promoting nihonga in the colony, Japanese artists lost their putative monopoly on nihonga and it became a creative medium for some Taiwanese-Chinese artists.
Moreover, this pathway demonstrates what it took to become an artist in the Japanese empire in the 1920s and 1930s. Guo Xuehu did not follow a typical path to artistic success because he was largely self-taught. Yet, as a an artist with an excellent exhibition record, he became successful in Taiwan's art establishment.
Questions for the classroom:
- What are the points of convergence and the respective silences in the histories of modern Taiwanese and Japanese art?
- How would Japanese modern art history look like if it featured Guo Xuehu as one of its protagonists?
- Why would art historians of Japan include him in their history? Or shouldn't they (we)?
- At what point has nihonga stopped being an artistic medium particular to Japan and Japanese artists? How can we conceptually describe this process?
"Three Youths of the Taiwan Salon"
Taiten san shōnen; Chen Jin; Lin Yushan; Masaki Naohiko; Mizuno Rentarō; Gotō Fumio
Kabayama Elementary School, location of the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition
Imperial Fine Arts Academy
Tokyo School of Fine Arts
Guo Xuehu made his artistic debut in the fall of 1927, when his work "Stream Through Pine Ravine" (Shōgaku hisen) got accepted to the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. He was one of the only three Taiwanese-Chinese artists whose works got accepted to the tōyōga division. The other two artists, Chen Jin (1907-1998) and Lin Yushan (1907-2004), were one year older than Guo Xuehu, and had studied in Japan. Art critics named Chen Jin, Lin Yushan, and Guo Xuehu the “Three Youths of the Taiwan Salon” (Taiten san shōnen), gesturing to their very young age (for an artist with an exhibition record) and the scandalous fact that all senior and much more experienced Taiwanese-Chinese artists in the tōyōga category, including Cai Xuexi, had their works rejected. Taiwan nichinichi shinpō announced the names of all artists and work titles accepted to the exhibition, reproduced selected works, and published multiple reviews. As a self-taught artist, Guo Xuehu felt enormous pressure to prove himself the following year.
"Stream Through Pine Ravine" is not a painting of an actual landscape. It is an ideal literati landscape, which includes all the common tropes, such as pine trees, waterfall, mountains, rocks, forests, and fog. At the same time, these elements are arranged in a way that creates a sense of perspective. For example, we can see smaller pines in the upper part of the work and bigger pines in the lower part. Also, the use of lighter and darker ink in the depiction of the mountains subtly enhances the sense of depth (Lin 2008, 24).
At the opening ceremony of the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, Gotō Fumio (1884-1980), the Vice-Governor General, spoke to the crowd of invited guests and expressed his hopes that the exhibition would flourish and contribute to the “imperial art world” (teikoku bijutsukai) (“Nankoku bijutsu no dendō o kizuku hatsu no Taiwan Bijutsu Tenrankai"). The organizers also read congratulatory telegrams from Japan’s Minister of Education and the former organizer of the Korea Fine Arts Exhibition (Chōsen bijutsu tenrankai) Mizuno Rentarō (1868-1949), the director of the Imperial Fine Arts Academy Fukuhara Ryōjirō (1868-1932), and the director of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts Masaki Naohiko (1862-1940) (Nihon bijutsu nenkan Shōwa 3-nen 1928, 41). Thus, the organizers mobilized their contacts to major bureaucrats in the metropole to position their efforts within the imperial framework of art patronage.
The Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition was run with the help of four Japanese artists residing on the island: Gōhara Kotō (1887-1965), Kinoshita Seigai (1887-1988), Ishikawa Kin’ichirō (1871-1945), and Shiotsuki Tōho (1886-1954). The majority of participating artists were Japanese settlers (For the statistics on participation, see: square book & new visions). Some Taiwanese-Chinese were also interested in participating in this exhibition.
By the time the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition opened in Taipei, Japanese residents of the island were familiar with the hustle and bustle of the "artistic autumn" (bijutsu no aki) in the metropole. Taiwan nichinichi shinpō had for years been regularly reporting on the salon in Tokyo and other art-related events. The power of the press helped shape the popular image of an artist as a successful exhibition participant and a public figure. Also, exhibition participation promised an opportunity for sales and elevating an artist's standing in the art market. Nearly two months in advance of the salon's first opening in Taipei, the newspaper began extensive reporting on the topic, with the hopes of attracting potential participants and garnering a wide interest. Some anti-colonialists also supported Taiwanese-Chinese artists' participation in the official exhibitions, in belief that it was important to foster Taiwan's cultural production and demonstrate the accomplishments of Taiwan's artists (Kuo 2000, 9).
tōyōga; Cai Xuexi; Chen Yingsheng
Taipei Country College of Industry
Guo Xuehu's name at birth was Jinhuo. Jinhuo lost his father when he was only two years old and relied on his mother for support. In elementary school, he received his earliest formal art education—in watercolor—from his art instructor Chen Yingsheng. In 1923, he graduated from elementary school and enrolled in Taipei Country College of Industry to study engineering. Yet, he quit school after only one semester to pursue art. He needed to forge a viable career for himself.
In the 1920s and 1930s, aspiring artists in Taiwan, Japanese or Taiwanese-Chinese, had a few options to enter on a path of professional training. They could study privately with an art instructor, become an apprentice in a professional workshop, or leave Taiwan to attend an art school in Japan. In 1925, Guo Jinhuo entered a four month long apprenticeship with Cai Xuexi (1884-1964). The other two options were out of his financial reach.
Cai Xuexi was a professional painter from Fujian who specialized in ink painting. He taught Guo how to mount paintings and encouraged copying as a study method. He also gave Guo his artistic name "Xuehu," under which he is known today. Guo learnt at his studio how to paint Daoist and other religious subjects (Kuo 2000, 49-50; Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1989, 17, 207). Moreover, the work in Cai's studio provided the young aspiring artist with an opportunity to view many paintings and thus contributed to his early art education.
When describing his artistic path in the essay submitted to the library contest just a few years later, Guo Xuehu downplays this apprenticeship and doesn't mention Cai Xuexi's name. Instead, he emphasizes how he got the job of a scroll mounter because it would allow him to look at "many great paintings." In this way, he disassociates himself from Chinese painting traditions without directly disavowing them. Or, instead of being an artist who carries out painting traditions of one specific region (Fujian) or an ethnic group (Chinese), he claims a library-based education that spans large swaths of East Asia.
Cai Xuexi's paintings and those of some other artists working in ink painting and calligraphy traditions of the Qing dynasty were rejected from the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. As far as we can judge from reproductions and remaining newspaper sources, the Japanese jurors at the Taiwan salon preferred paintings in style of contemporary nihonga works. They did accept some literati landscapes, yet overall these works appear more aligned with contemporary trends in literati painting in Japan rather than China. (It is difficult to do careful stylistic analysis when few original works from the first exhibition remain and you need to rely on small black and white reproductions. See this database for reproductions of all works from the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibitions and information on participating artists.) For this reason, some art historians have criticized the concept of tōyōga as a misnomer and suggest that in fact works in the tōyōga division at the salon were stylistically so close to nihonga that the term itself stood for Japan's putative takeover of the leadership of East Asian painting (see Yen 2007, 85; Liao 1996, 43; Kuo 2000).
tōyōga; toyoga; Japanese style painting; Japanese-style painting
Nihonga is often translated into English as "Japanese style painting." It refers to paintings executed with ink and/or mineral pigments on paper or silk. Its major formats include hanging scrolls, handscrolls, folded screens, albums, and framed works.
Artists and art critics in Japan began to use this term in the second half of the nineteenth century to distinguish native modes of painting from oil painting and watercolor (seiyōga). The official exhibitions in Tokyo accepted submissions to the two respective divisions, nihonga and seiyōga. Other institutions, including art associations and art schools, also upheld the division between nihonga and seiyōga. However, the two modes of painting share many stylistic and thematic similarities; the boundaries between them were often fluid and contested. Many artists engaged in both.
In principle, the distinction between nihonga and seiyōga was based on the medium and the presumed set of traditions and masters each mode was indebted to, not on painter's nationality or the painting's subject matter. Both categories reflect a Japan-centric view of global art in the time of empire. Nihonga often artists took up styles of the Kano School, Rinpa School, Maruyama Shijō School, Yamato-e, and Ukiyo-e in their works. Generally, nihonga was viewed as distinct from literati painting. However, some modern nihonga artists did incorporate literati painting into their artistic practice; also, paintings in the literati tradition were displayed in the nihonga division at the salon.
Konoshima Ōkoku's "Drizzling Shower of Rain" is an example of nihonga. This work was on display at the first Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition in 1907. It is a pair of six-fold screens depicting deer wading through wet grasses. Associations of the subject matter with autumn match the salon season of October. Konoshima Ōkoku's masterful brushwork received much acclaim. The work won a prize and the Ministry of Education purchased it for a prospective art museum. In 1922, the Ministry loaned it for display at a major exhibition of Japanese historic and contemporary art held at the Grand Palais in Paris. In 1923, Ōkoku's screens traveled to Seoul as one of the model works for the second Korea Fine Arts Exhibition.
In certain contexts, artists and critics used the term nihonga as a synonym of tōyōga, or "East Asian Painting." The equivalent of nihonga in Taiwan and Korea and a counterpart to seiyōga came to be known as tōyōga. By the 1930s, some artists from Korea and Taiwan, like Guo Xuehu, came to work in the medium of nihonga.
See discussion of Guo Xuehu's art to better understand the relationship of nihonga and tōyōga.
Tōyōga (tongyanghwa in Korean, dongyanghua in Chinese) is translated into English as "Oriental-style painting." It refers to paintings with ink and mineral pigments on silk or paper.
The term tōyōga appeared in publications in Japan in the second half of the nineteenth century to compare and distinguish East Asian painting from oil painting, which became known as seiyōga. Tōyōga came into wider use in colonial Korea and Taiwan after the establishment of the Korea Fine Arts Exhibition in 1922 and the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition in 1927, respectively. Each of these salons for contemporary art featured two divisions for painting, one for tōyōga and one for seiyōga (initially, the Korea Fine Arts Exhibition had also a third division for calligraphy. In 1932 it was abolished and replaced with crafts division). In this way, tōyōga was the equivalent of the metropolitan nihonga division in the colonies. In certain contexts, artists and critics used the term nihonga as a synonym to tōyōga.
The word tōyō means "the Orient." The name tōyōga suggests incorporation of East Asian painting styles. However, few literati paintings made it into the exhibition. In practice the tōyōga works at the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibitions showed close stylistic resemblance to nihonga. Guo Xuehu's "Scenery Near Yuanshan", which received a special award at the second Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, exemplifies this issue well. See discussion of Guo Xuehu's art to better understand the relationship of nihonga and tōyōga.
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- 1 2020-11-25T06:08:32-05:00 The Tokugawa Period 58 plain 2021-08-01T11:40:09-04:00