blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Two National Museums

Cardiff's National Museum is on Gorsedd Gardens Road
Within a week, I visited the National Museums in Wales (Cardiff) and Japan (Tokyo), both of them full of artworks worth discovering. What an education I got!

In Cardiff with my mother and sister (Feb. 9th) I chose to (re)visit the Davies' Collection of French art—such good taste, those ladies had—as well as my favourite British art by the neo-romantics John Piper, Paul Nash, and company (Graham Sutherland, Ceri Richards, Stanley Spencer, Barbara Hepworth ...) They had a whole room full of David Jones' pieces, wonderful! It struck me how similar to the Canadian David Milne's his art was. We spent some time in a retrospective exhibition of paintings and photographs of the Queen as well which included an excellent portrait of her by Karsh.

Welsh is easier to understand than Japanese
The collections in the Tokyo museum (Feb. 15th) looked less familiar! I saw terracotta figures (haniwa) made to protect a dead person's tomb or soul. In the next room were scrolls of Buddhist "scripture"; Buddhism came to Japan through Korea in the 6th century. Further on in the galleries was a 12th century painting of a Utopian scene entitled Nirvana, with echoes of the lion lying down with the lamb from Isaiah, but in this case the animals and humans in the picture, painted on silk, were encircling a reclining Buddha. It reminded me of what I'd seen in China, and the copies of poems by Bai Juyi were an even more direct link to that country, as was the tea ceremony paraphernalia, the Ming Dynasty cups and bowls.

Entrance to the TNM beside Ueno Park
I found rooms full of 16th century (Muromachi period) screen paintings, a lovely scene of Pine Trees on the Seashore for instance and another with birds, flowers, boats, waves, willows and a hunting scene. Then there was a Zen Buddhist screen, Moon and Plum Tree, simply done in ink. From the 17th century I saw beautiful folding screens featuring blossoming plum trees on gold leaf, adorned with peacocks, and an 18th century one told the allegorical story of four old men on an "outing," accompanied by riders on horseback and young servants who were pushing and pulling them up a steep slope and carrying them across a mountain stream.

The museum also had a large collection of Samurai armour. The Samurai were "strong and stoic," keeping their swords in lacquered scabbards. The "warrior class" of Japanese society in the old days played games like snap with painted scallop shells instead of cards, the shells kept in octagonal boxes. They played a so-called "Incense Game" requiring something like a chess board. They did play card games too; the cards were circular. Battledore and shuttlecock was a popular pastime and they also liked theatre with its Noh masks and elaborate costumes. In the permanent collection at the museum were many paintings of actors and "Beauties"––young women of the Pleasure District in their fashionable 18th century attire.

I saw some lovely watercolours by Hokusai and tiny, intricate ivory netuske as well as a large Map of All the Countries of the World, with Japan at the centre, of course, Australia featuring vaguely as part of Antarctica at the bottom.

I took a break for lunch, a tasty wonton soup served with tea for $10 in the peaceful museum restaurant outside the main building, then went to explore another floor of the museum, seeing lacquerware (an artform that dates back to 5000 BC!) with inlaid mother of pearl, iron sculptures of a snake, a lobster, and fish, of bronze quails and elephants that doubled as incense burners, and an ox. In the Edo period they loved collecting miniature objects: those Hina dolls that I mentioned in an earlier blogpost often had dolls-house furniture with tableware to match. Some of the dolls were made to nod their heads or dance in circles.

In the last gallery visitors were being encouraged to sit down and create their own design for a kimono. I did this too and was given a leaflet about the meaning of the patterns used on kimonos.

Near each museum (my blog is all about juxtapositions!) was a large public park, Bute Park and Ueno Park, respectively. The spring daffodils were starting to bloom in Cardiff; at the bottom of the hill near Ueno Station in Tokyo I walked past a lotus pond that had not yet sprung to life. I'd have to return in midsummer to see those flowers in bloom.


Yiwen said...

Are you going back to Japan this summer again, Ali?

Alison Hobbs said...

Probably not as soon as that, but I would definitely like to see more of Japan. Asia fascinates me. At the moment, I keep waking up from dreams about Japan: that's my brain trying to process what I saw there.

scott davidson said...

I had fun choosing this particular painting online that now hangs in my downtown office, from, who sells canvas prints of art masterpieces. While the original is treasured in some art museum in England, my print, of this painting by Edward Burne-Jones is very much appreciated by my staff and clients. The print quality is really excellent.