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November 10, 2007–April 13, 2008
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The Etsuko and Joe Price Collection

The Etsuko and Joe Price collection is regarded as one of the world's finest collections of paintings from Japan's Edo period (1615-1868).

Ironically, within the more than two centuries of imposed national isolation, Japan's traditional painting ateliers witnessed both continuity and unprecedented splintering, the emergence of individual talents, and degrees of eccentricity, variety, and creativity unmatched in previous centuries. The results are featured in the Price collection, which recently completed a highly acclaimed one-year tour of four major Japanese museums (July 2006-May 2007).

A variation of that exhibition is now presented at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery as Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters from the Price Collection (November 10, 2007-April 13, 2008). The collection next will be on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (June 22-September 14, 2008), where the Prices have been instrumental in advancing the study and appreciation of Japanese art.

While the Price collection offers exceptional examples of the traditional and divergent styles of the Edo period, it was assembled with an eye to beauty rather than encyclopedic aims. Thus, it can be presented in multiple ways. We have chosen here to explore three major areas: the manifestations of legend, spirit, and myth in everyday life; the multiple meanings of landscape; and the preternatural presence of birds and beasts.

Although arbitrary, these divisions reveal an overall phenomenon: during the Edo period (1615-1868) in Japan, paintings began to incorporate a new sense of intimacy, even jocularity, with the divine and the revered past. In addition, birds and animals moved from having largely symbolic, heraldic roles to assuming more complex functions with highly individualized personalities. Images of the land reverberate with spirit and layers of meaning. In a sense, vertical hierarchies of the universe begin to tilt toward the horizontal.

The paintings of the Edo period announced that the alert eye could expect wholly new ways of encountering the world. By paying heed to the structure of nature, the structure of beauty would be revealed.

This exhibition has been made possible through the generosity of the Anne van Biema Endowment and Nikkei, Inc.


To accommodate both the size of the collection and conservation requirements, the paintings in this exhibition will be rotated several times. Generally, screen displays will be changed three times and most hanging scrolls changed twice, with a few exceptions. There are 109 titled paintings in the exhibition. Because some "titles" are actually painting ensembles, the number of actual paintings runs to approximately 150. At any given time, approximately 50 works will be on display.

Most hanging scrolls will change during the period between January 14 and 25, 2008. Most screens will change between January 2 and 4 and, again, between February 18 and 22.