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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Art > Fine Art > Art Gallery > The Art Gallery of New South Wales > SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art


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The Archibald Prize

The Australian Photographic Portrait Prize Winner 2005

Selection of Exhibitions 2005

Points of view: Australian photography 1985-95


Rajput: sons of kings - Indian miniatures

Margaret Preston exhibition

Wolfgang Laib

19th Century Australian Watercolours, drawings & pastels

Dadang Christanto - They give evidence

Simryn Gill Standing still

Boucher, Watteau and the origin of Rococo exhibition

Albertina: Old Master Drawings from Vienna

Allan Mitelman: works on paper 1967-2004

David Rosetzky wins 2005 Anne Landa Award

Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project

True Stories: Art of the East Kimberley

Tracey Emin

Susan Norrie - Undertow

SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Guggenheim Museum of Art

Louvre Museum Paris

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Baltimore Museum of Art

Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Art Gallery of New South Wales

SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art presented some of the finest examples of Japanese art created over 400 years. Drawn from public and private collections around Japan, the exhibition revealed the profound Japanese love and appreciation of nature.

 For centuries the Japanese people have always adapted their lives to the changing seasons, and their art reflects their sensitivity to seasonal nuances. With the coming of each new season, people change the display of paintings in their home and entertain guests with utensils appropriately designed or decorated. Movable screens, hanging scrolls, writing boxes, tea utensils, ceramics, kimonos and even saddles were often decorated with seasonal motifs, exquisite examples of which are included in this exhibition. 

 The carefully selected 94 works in the 2003 exhibition included paintings, lacquer, ceramics and textiles including pieces designated as Important Cultural Property or Important Art Objects. Many works in the exhibition are such major pieces of Japanese art they would have been extremely difficult to borrow without the mediation of the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs (the Bunkach˘). The Art Gallery of New South Wales is honoured to have been selected to present the first Bunkach˘ exhibition in Australia.

SHIMOMURA Kanzan (1873-1930) Poet Fujiwara-no Teika in Mt Ogura 1909 (detail). 
Pair of six-fold screens; colour on silk. 157 x 333.5 cm each. Yokohama Museum of Art

Spring is the cherry blossom 
Summer is the cuckoo 
Autumn is the moon 
And in winter the shimmering snow is fresh to the eye. 
Eihei Dogen (1200-53) 

Due to the fragility of the works of art, the objects were displayed in two consecutive exhibitions over a period of ten weeks. SEASONS created two different thematic displays within the overall structure of the exhibition.

Each of the two displays consisted of three sections: 

The four seasons 
From spring to summer - August to September 2003 
From autumn to winter - September to October 2003 
Seasons and literature 
The four seasons section comprised individual works or sets of works that depict the seasonal cycle and the activities specific to each season. The Japanese appreciate the gradual and inevitable transition from one season to the next to the extent of capturing this passage of the seasons in their art. The section also indicates how many seasonal motifs are infused with poetic associations. 

From spring to summer focuses on major icons of these seasons, most notably the cherry blossom, which the Japanese love because enjoyment of its beauty is enhanced by its very brevity. No sooner has it budded and bloomed than it falls; no other flower so poignantly captures how fleeting beauty can be. The Japanese have elevated the appreciation of such transience to an aesthetic experience that pervades their daily lives. Other seasonal icons beautifully rendered in art include hydrangeas in the rainy season and summer festivals. 

The second period of this section - From autumn to winter - features autumnal icons, the modest appearance of autumn grasses alluding to the melancholy mood of the season, insects whose varied sounds compensate for the lack of bright flowers in the garden, and the bright maple leaves that attract people outdoors for picnics. 

The last section - Seasons and literature - demonstrates the rich legacy of associations rendered by Japanese classical literature's use of seasonal images and metaphors. For example, the motif of plank bridges zigzagging between irises immediately calls to mind a poignant chapter from the famous 10th century Tales of Ise in which the exiled hero is so transfixed by the beauty of irises that he composes a poem longing for the lover he left in the capital. Poetry is so entwined with seasonal references that some kimonos decorated with seasonal motifs also feature poems embroidered on them. 

The appreciation of nature is not unique to the Japanese people, but the way they express this appreciation is. SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art is an excellent opportunity to share the Japanese fascination with the most subtle signs of the changing seasons and to experience such everyday sights as the moon, cherry blossoms and maples from a new perspective. 

SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art was co-organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs (the Bunkacho), and the Japan Foundation, with support from the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and VisAsia. 

Supporting Sponsor: Optimal Fund Management 

On view: August to October 2003

 Art Gallery of New South Wales 
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney 2000

Telephone: (02) 9225 1744 or 
nationwide tollfree 1800 679 278 

Hours: 7 days a week 10am to 5pm 
(closed Christmas Day and Easter Friday) 
Art After Hours open every Wednesday until 9pm 

Admission: Free



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