Deciphering DC: Inventing Utamaro @ Freer|Sackler

Inventing Utamaro
Sackler Gallery

Not that I try to be trendy (I still haven’t selfied myself in the Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn), but sometimes things I find interesting have a limited lifespan. Those are the breaks.

The exhibit ‘Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered’ has a limited run (until July 9th), so if you’re going to experience it, don’t delay too long.

Plus the Freer Gallery is under renovation now and the Sackler Gallery is closing for renovation on July 10th (for about 4 months – both re-opening in October).

Digression: Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by Japanese culture, and their gardens and architecture and feudal history. I studied Japanese for about 8 months – with the promise that the Japanese company I then worked for would send me on a business trip to Japan. I left the company before that happened, but the first thing I did upon leaving was travel to Japan. So Japan was my first international trip (I’m discounting Canada – a mere three hour drive from where I grew up) and my first significant cultural experience outside of North America. When I visit cities that have a Japanese Garden in some form, I make a point of finding them.

So when I heard about the three ‘Inventing Utamaro’ works being displayed at the Sackler, I headed over for a peek.

Each painting shows a different theme – ‘moon’, ‘snow’ and ‘flowers’ – set in the pleasure district of Edo during the era of feudal Japan. In other words, lots of cool imagery of gardens and geishas.

This exhibit is the first time the three paintings, by the enigmatic artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), have been displayed together in 140 years. The Freer|Sackler owns the ‘Moon at Shinagawa’, while the ‘Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara’ and ‘Snow at Fukagawa’ come from other museums on a temporary basis.

‘Snow at Fukagawa’ was missing for nearly 70 years and rediscovered in 2014 by the Okada Museum of Art.

Go see all three paintings and other works by Utamaro!

Until next time.

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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