Japan Society, Japan Society Gallery, Hasegawa Tōhaku, Hasegawa Nobuharu, Japan, NYC, exhibition, screens, painting, Buddhist art

Japan Society Gallery’s Latest Exhibition Takes A Giant Leap with Hasegawa’s Art

Lovers of Japanese art are in for a treat with Japan Society Gallery’s latest exhibition, A Giant Leap: The Transformation of Hasegawa Tōhaku, which will be displayed in two rotations, Friday, March 9 through Sunday, April 8 and Thursday, April 12 through Sunday, May 6. This is the first U.S. exhibition focused on the works and stylistic transformation of Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539-1610), who is widely recognized as one of Japan’s most beloved painters and artistic innovators. This is a rare showing of his remarkable painted screens and scrolls in the U.S., including four Important Cultural Properties on loan from Japanese collections.

The exhibition is conceived and supervised by Dr. Miyeko Murase, Professor Emerita, Art History and Archaeology Department, Columbia University and former special consultant for Japanese Art, Asia Department, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Dr. Masatomo Kawai, Professor Emeritus, Keio University and director, Chiba City Museum of Art, in consultation with Yukie Kamiya, director of Japan Society Gallery.

“We are thrilled to stage this momentous exhibition of rare works by Hasegawa Tōhaku,” says Kamiya. “In many ways, the exhibition exemplifies Japan Society’s unique capability to provide a window onto Eastern scholarship, acquiring Important Cultural Properties from Japan and presenting them in a single exhibition in the U.S. As many of the loans are previously unseen in the West, A Giant Leap is an opportunity for Tōhaku’s genius to be recognized at an international level that has not yet been achieved in the U.S.”

One of the fascinating aspects of A Giant Leap is that it conveys the dramatic transformation of a painter from the provinces into one of Japan’s most important and beloved artists of the sixteenth-century and highlights research hat reveals his paintings, formerly attributed to two separate painters – “Nobuharu” and “Tōhaku” – to be the work of a single person. The exhibition displays works marked under each name.

Japan Society, Japan Society Gallery, Hasegawa Tōhaku, Hasegawa Nobuharu, Japan, NYC, exhibition, screens, painting, Buddhist art
Hasegawa Tōhaku (Nobuharu) Horses at Pasture, Momoyama period (detail). Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on paper. Collection of Tokyo National Museum

In 1964, art historian Tsugiyoshi Doi first proposed a theory that Hasegawa Tōhaku signed and sealed his work with a different name – Hasegawa Nobuharu – during his youth. The vast stylistic discrepancy between works bearing the name “Nobuharu” and those marked “Tōhaku” raised questions among scholars. For decades, no single painting could be identified as bridging the gap separating these oeuvres. Representing the left-hand screen of a pair (the whereabouts of its counterpart are unknown), Birds and Flowers of Spring and Summer is today considered the proverbial “missing link,” with telltale stylistic details revealing its unique position within the painter’s career. In this screen a large, jagged pine tree, its branches wound with wisteria and its trunk edged with red azalea, a waterfall cascading into a deep blue stream, and dandelions and violets sprouting before a crab-apple tree, create one of the most important works on view in A Giant Leap and one of the most important in the study of Tōhaku at large. To experience Tōhaku’s works as though they were in a Buddhist temple, visitors to Japan Society Gallery have the opportunity to sit barefoot and on the floor in close proximity to an uncased, high-quality facsimile of Tōhaku’s famous painted pine trees screen.

Tōhaku has been the subject of renewed attention in recent years, including at the Kyoto National Museum and the Tokyo National Museum, where the 400th anniversary of the artist’s death was commemorated in an important 2010 survey exhibition. Raised in a family of cloth-dyers in Nanao, on the Sea of Japan coast in the Hokuriku region of Japan’s main island, Tōhaku began his career as a provincial painter of Buddhist paintings, working under the name “Nobuharu.” He later moved to Kyoto, the heart of late 16th century Japanese politics and culture, where he studied Chinese and Japanese painting and accepted instruction from Kanō Shōei, head of the Kanō school, which supplied paintings to Japan’s leading samurai. In the 1580s, he appears to have begun using the name “Tōhaku,” a switch in nomenclature that coincided with a shift in his style. While producing painted screens covered in vast expanses of gold leaf, Tōhaku also began to demonstrate a mastery of sumi-e (ink painting) at this stage in his career. By 1590, he had emerged as the leading painter of his day, founding the Hasegawa school of painting, consisting primarily of his own sons. Tōhaku became the favored painter for Sen no Rykyu and the powerful daimyō Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, at the turn of the 17th century, he was summoned to the new capital of Edo by Hideyoshi’s successor, Tokugawa Ieyasu (founder of Tokugawa shogunate), where he remained briefly until his death.

A variety of programming invites visitors to experience and understand the works of Tōhaku unlike ever before with weekly meditation, workshops, talks, and events. Every Tuesday through the duration of the exhibition, visitors can practice the art of meditation inside the North Gallery with 45-minute sessions led by masters from New York Zendo Shobo-ji in Midtown Manhattan. Other related events include a group art-making workshop by Brooklyn-based artist Tomokazu Matsuyama, who will also reflect on the influence of Tōhaku on his own art; a talk identifying bird and flower species found in Tōhaku’s paintings led by Japanese garden curator Brian Funk of Brooklyn Botanical Garden and ornithologist Paul Sweet of the American Museum of Natural History; and an illustrated lecture that uncovers Tōhaku’s dramatic artistic style transformation by Professor Murase.

A Giant Leap: The Transformation of Hasegawa Tōhaku

Friday, March 9 through Sunday, April 8
Thursday, April 12 through Sunday, May 6

Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)

$12/$10 students and seniors/Free Japan Society members and children under 16

Admission is free to all on Friday nights from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.
Docent tours are available free with admission Tuesday through Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (English) and Fridays at 6:00 p.m. (Japanese) and 7:00 p.m. (English)

Top Photo Credits: (Left) Hasegawa Tōhaku Nobuharu: Flowers and Birds of Spring and Summer. Private Collection, New York; (Right) Portrait of Priest Nichigyō Important Cultural Property. Honpoji Temple, Kyoto



Escape East @ 333

Fridays, March 9, April 6, and May 4 from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.

Free and open to the public

Escape the long work week and Leap into spring with Japan Society’s popular monthly mixer for art enthusiasts, including a special Launch Party on the evening of the exhibition opening. Complimentary snacks, music, and drink specials.


Gallery Talk: Image-in-Focus

Sunday, March 11 at 2:00 p.m.

Free with admission to the exhibition

This special installment of Japan Society Gallery’s Image-in-Focus series celebrates the opening of A Giant Leap, with exhibition co-supervisor Dr. Masatomo Kawai, one of the world’s leading Tōhaku specialists. Dr. Kawai will share his exceptional insights into the life and career of the artist and personally guide visitors through close examinations of the masterpieces on display – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Groups are limited to 30, on a first-come, first-served basis.


Meditation Series: Morning Meditations

Tuesdays, March 13 through May 1 at 11:00 a.m.

Season pass: $120/$100 seniors and students/$32 members
Single session: $16/$14 seniors and students/$5 members

Many of Hasegawa Tōhaku’s greatest masterpieces were made for Buddhist temples as sliding room dividers (fusuma) and multi-panel screens (byōbu). Practice the art of meditation seated before a screen in Japan Society’s North Gallery in these weekly 45-minute sessions led by masters from New York Zendo Shobo-ji in Midtown Manhattan. Following this respite from the workweek, continue your journey with complimentary admission to the exhibition.


Lecture: “How Hasegawa Tōhaku Conquered the Art World”

Friday, March 16 at 6:00 p.m.

$15/$12 members and students

In conjunction with Asia Week New York, this illustrated lecture by exhibition co-supervisor Prof. Miyeko Murase inaugurates A Giant Leap. Dr. Murase reveals the contemporary relevance of Tōhaku and his dramatic transformation from a provincial upstart to the leading painter of his age. Followed by a reception.


Lecture: “Hard Bodies: Contemporary Japanese Lacquer Sculpture”

Sunday, March 18 at 11:00 a.m.

$15/$12 members and students

The toxic sap from the lacquer tree has been used to make objects resilient and beautiful in East Asia for several thousand years. Until the modern period, lacquer was principally used for articles of daily or ceremonial use, such as wine vessels and document cases. In the early 1950s, artists revolutionized this utilitarian tradition by creating the first sculptures made from lacquer. Dr. Andreas Marks, Curator and Department Head, Japanese and Korean Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, presents contemporary experiments with the medium by a small but enterprising circle of artists, all born since 1959, who have pushed lacquer in entirely new directions. Co-organized with the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA). Morning refreshments served before and after the lecture. Post-lecture tours of A Giant Leap conducted by Japan Society staff on a first-come first-served basis.


Symposium: The Artist’s Transformation: Recontextualizing Hasegawa Tōhaku

Saturday, April 7 at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets: $20/$18 members and students

Launching the second rotation (April 12 through May 6) of historically and aesthetically significant paintings in A Giant Leap, this symposium presents an array of new vantage points and innovative perspectives on the career of Hasegawa Tōhaku. Leading scholars, including Prof. Matthew McKelway of Columbia University, Prof. Yukio Lippit of Harvard University, and Masato Matsushima of the Tokyo National Museum, illuminate cutting-edge research on Tōhaku and the role of painters in Momoyama-era Japan. Organized in conjunction with the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Japanese Art, Columbia University.


Workshop: Beyond Tōhaku: Make a Masterpiece

Sunday, April 15 at 11:00 a.m.

Single session: $75/$65 members and students

One of the most provocative and controversial artistic figures of his day, Hasegawa Tōhaku broke with established norms and challenged highly regarded rivals to emerge as Japan’s leading painter. A school of followers carried on his name for more than a century after his death. Tōhaku’s legacy continues to this day in the work of contemporary Japanese painters who unabashedly push artistic boundaries while maintaining a reverence for the past. Join New York-based artist Tomokazu Matsuyama as he discusses the impact of Tōhaku on the creation of his own vibrant multi-panel works, and guides visitors in creating their own Tōhaku-inspired masterpieces. Space is limited. All materials provided.


Gallery Talk and Tea: Kacho-zu: Bird and Flower Sightings in the Art of Tōhaku

Saturday, April 28 at 11:00 a.m.

Tickets: $20/$18 members and students

Celebrate the arrival of spring with this guided tour of A Giant Leap, focusing on the menagerie of birds and flowers featured in the Tōhaku’s paintings. Japanese garden curator Brian Funk of Brooklyn Botanical Garden and ornithologist Paul Sweet of the American Museum of Natural History will lead participants in identifying species from their painted representations and explain how these flora and fauna interact with one another to create unique ecosystems. Welcome the spring verdure with a special matcha reception after the tour! Space limited to 30 participants.

For more information and to purchase tickets to the related events, please visit Japan Society’s website.