ÔTSU-E: popular paintings of Japan

24 Apr 2019 – 15 Jun 2019

Maison de la Culture du Japon a Paris

Paris, France


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"ÔTSU-E: popular paintings of Japan" is the first exhibition organized in Europe on Japanese imagery of the Edo period. It reveals, through more than one hundred and twenty works and documents, an unknown folk art that developed near Kyoto between the seventeenth and nineteenth century.

The Ôtsu-e or "Ôtsu images" are stencil paintings, which became very popular throughout the Edo period, from the early 17th to the mid-19th century. They were sold to travelers and pilgrims on the Tôkaidô road linking Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo), and the city of Ôtsu is the first relay. The themes of these paintings - numbering about one hundred and twenty - were first religious, before evolving into satirical or moral content. The best-known repertoire consists of about ten subjects - such as the demon disguised as a monk or the girl with wisteria - to whom protective virtues were attributed.

Many nineteenth-century artists, especially from the ukiyo-e school , such as Kuniyoshi or Kawanabe Kyôsai, were fascinated by this imagery and drew inspiration from it, producing parody versions that prolonged their humorous spirit. 

It was only in the 1920s, spurred on by the movement for the popular arts ( mingei ), that these images of Ôtsu were rediscovered, studied and miraculously preserved by the thinker Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889-1961). The most beautiful pieces of this unique collection in the world, preserved in the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, the museum he founded in Tokyo in 1936, are shown in the exhibition.

Otsu's images are far from being as famous in the West as the ukiyo-e prints , which are contemporary to them. Some precursors were nevertheless interested, like the anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan or artists, such as the Catalan sculptor Eudald Serra, Miró or Picasso, whose several works of their personal collections are exhibited. The simplification of forms, the graphic freedom, the naivety and the humorous spirit of these paintings came into effect in resonance with certain forms of avant-garde art in the twentieth century.

The exhibition presents more than a hundred particularly rare and fragile works: Ôtsu paintings, ukiyo-e prints and paintings by famous artists from the 18th to the early 20th century, statuettes and old illustrated books. From private collections and museums in Japan, Catalonia and France, some of them are unveiled to the French public for the very first time.

Curators of the exhibition: Christophe Marquet (art historian, director of the French School of the Far East), Ken.ichiro Yokoya (curator at the Otsu City Museum of History)

Visit commented by Christophe Marquet, curator of the exhibition: Thursdays 2, 16 and 23 May at 18:30  on reservation (free on presentation of the ticket)   


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