Masterpieces

Important Cultural Properties
at the MOMAT
(including two long term loan work)


The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo Collection (main building) contains 14 items that have been designated by the Japanese government as Important Cultural Properties. These include nine Nihon-ga (Japanese-style) paintings, four oil paintings, and one sculpture. (One of the Nihon-ga paintings and one of the oil paintings are on long-term loan to the museum.)

In this section, we introduce these Important Cultural Properties in chronological order with a brief explanation of each work.

To find out which works are currently on display, please visit the following page: MOMAT Collection. Also, don’t miss the works that are on view for a limited time due to conservation.

Harada Naojiro (1863-1899) Kannon Bodhisattva Riding the Dragon 1890

oil on canvas
272.0 x 181.0 cm
Long term loan (Gokokuji Temple Collection)

 

The large canvas features Kannon in a white robe riding the dragon, with a willow branch in the right hand and a water cup in the left hand. Having studied in Germany, Harada made this piece referring to European religious paintings and Japanese pieces showing Kannon. Applying realistic representation of oil painting to a traditional Japanese subject, this ambitious work generated fierce debates about its theme and vivid depiction when first shown.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 8, 2007)

 

Hishida Shunso (1874-1911) Wang Zhaojun (The Chinese Princess) 1902

color on silk, framed
168.0 × 370.0cm
Long-term loan(Zenpo-ji Temple Collection)

 

Wang Zhaojun, said to be the most beautiful woman in China’s imperial palace, was sent to marry the king of Xiongnu during the reign of Emperor Yuan in the early Han Dynasty. This work shows the palace women watching the noble beauty, who was depicted in an unfavorable light in a portrait because she refused to bribe the painter, as they conceal a variety of emotions. An example of Hishida’s so-called moro-tai (vague-style) technique in which he avoided the use of distinct lines, the artist’s skillful shading creates a fluid texture and dreamy atmosphere.

Part of the Zenpo-ji Temple Collection in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, the work is usually deposited in the Chido Museum (located in Tsuruoka, Yamagata). But as the facility is currently being renovated, it was loaned to the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo for a limited period beginning in the fall of 2014.

(Designated an Important Cultural Propery on June 5, 1982)

 

Hishida Shunso (1874-1911) Bodhisattva Kenshu 1907

color on silk
hanging scroll
185.7 x 99.5 cm

 

Answering to the question from Chinese empress Wu hou (years of reign: 690–705), Bodhisattva Kenshu, the third founder of the Kegon sect of Buddhism, is said to have explained the doctrine of Kegon Sutra using a gold lion in the garden as an example. This piece shows a notable technique in which minute patterns are drawn on stippled colors. Hishida used to depict the air and light not with lines but with shades of colors. In this piece, the painter advanced his style to the next level, succeeding in expressing perspective and plasticity with subtle changes of color tones.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 6, 1979)

 

Shinkai Taketaro (1868-1927) Bathing 1907

plaster
189.0 x 46.0 x 39.0 cm
(A bronze cast after the original plaster will be shown.)

Shinkai Taketaro studied sculpture in Germany and aimed to merge Western techniques and Eastern subjects. This is a pioneering nude sculpture in Japan that Shinkai sent to the first Bunten (Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition).
Using a Japanese model in a reserved pose with a Tempyo-style chignon and a thin cloth in her hand, the piece shows a human body idealized in a European fashion. It exemplifies marriage of Japanese and Western art in a neat, graceful figure.

(The plaster designated an Important Cultural Property on June 27, 2000)

 

Yorozu Tetsugoro (1885-1927) Nude Beauty 1912

oil on canvas
162.0 x 97.0 cm
gift of Yagi Masaharu

 

Nude Beauty was Yorozu’s thesis painting at the Tokyo Art School (now Tokyo University of the Arts). The flame-like movements of the weeds and simplified figure of the nude show influences of Matisse and van Gogh, whose works were beginning to be introduced in Japanese media at that time. The painter’s intense colors and touches are said to have perplexed his teachers including Seiki Kuroda. This is a monumental work heralding the Taisho period (1912-26) when people advocated freedom of expression and respect for individuality.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on December 4, 2000)

 

Kishida Ryusei (1891-1929) Road Cut Through a Hill 1915

oil on canvas
56.0 x 53.0 cm

 

Depicting a scene near Yoyogi where Kishida lived at the time, the painter tried to come close to nature again with an eye that had gone through influence of classical Western paintings. According the artist himself, it was a time when he began to escape from “influence of classical” Western paintings, and “the desire to directly face the mass of nature itself” returned. Closely composed and showing a unique spatial grasp that overwhelms the viewer, this is a highly prominent piece among paintings of the Taisho period (1912-26).

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 22, 1971)

Kawai Gyokudo (1873-1957) Parting Spring 1916

color on paper, a pair of six-fold screens
183.0 x 390.0 cm each

 

In a late-spring gorge where cherry petals flutter down, three waterwheel boats are moored on the river. During his sketching trips in 1915 and 1916, Gyokudo visited Nagatoro gorge where he enjoyed boating trips down the river. Using the scene of the gorge as the starting point, the painter added cherry petals fluttering down like a light snow to produce this masterpiece.
Interested particularly in the repeating rhythm of the waterwheels’ rotation, Gyokudo said he took the greatest pains in depicting the rapid flow of the water to express the motion. Combining the diverse appearances of nature—its grandeur as well as the subtlety seen in the changing seasons—and the daily life of the local people, this piece succeeds in creating a world brimming with poetic sentiment.

(Designated an Important Cultural Propery on June 22, 1971)

 

Tsuchida Bakusen (1887-1936) Serving Girl at a Spa 1918

color on silk, a pair of two-fold screens
197.6 x 195.5 cm each

 

Juxtaposing a mountain range in the style of Yamato-e painting of the Heian period (794-1185), luxuriant pine trees reminiscent of wall paintings of the Momoyama period (1568-1600), and a sensual woman dressed in bright red reminding us of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bakusen producedServing Girl at a Spa in sympathy and consultation with different styles of various times and places. This piece was sent to the first exhibition organized by the Kokuga Sosaku Kyokai (National Creative Painting Association), a group of artists that challenged the dominance of the Bunten (Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition).
An intellectual integration of natural and feminine beauty—landscape and figure painting in fusion—Serving Girl at a Spa was an ambitious work by young Bakusen who aimed to create new modern Japanese-style painting free from traditions and conventions.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 7, 1999)

 

Murakami Kagaku (1888-1939) Kiyohime at the Hidaka River 1919

color on silk, hanging scroll
142.5 x 55.7 cm

 

This is a piece based on a legend concerning Dojoji temple in which Kiyohime, a woman in the reign of Emperor Daigo (885-930), fell in love with a priest, and pursued him to the bank of the Hidaka River. Carried away by rage, she eventually got the priest incinerated with flames that she herself kindled.

Kagaku chose the scene just before the climax of the story when the heroine transformed herself into a huge serpent. Instead of suggesting a consuming grudge, however, the painter presents Kiyohime with her eyes closed, accompanied by a lonesome pine tree and a stick thrown away, to convey sadness and grief. This work succeeds in expressing the depth of human emotion with subdued colors and delicate lines.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 7, 1999)

 

Nakamura Tsune (1887-1924) Portrait of Vasilii Yaroshenko 1920

oil on canvas
45.5 x 42.0 cm
gift of Osato Ichitaro

 

The model of this portrait is Vasilii Yaroshenko (1889-1952), a blind, then young Russian poet and Esperantist who appears also in a short novel of Lu Xun. Yaroshenko first came to Japan in 1914, then went wandering about Asian countries, and returned to Japan in 1919 to become a dependent at Nakamuraya, a baker in Shinjuku, Tokyo. This piece is characterized by soft brushwork reminiscent of the style of Renoir that Tsune greatly admired at that time, and the small number of colors used—chiefly the yellowish brown range. This piece unveils the deep spirituality of the model in placid light.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 11, 1977)

 

Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) Metempsychosis 1923

sumi on silk, scroll
55.3 x 4,070.0 cm

 

part of the work

A water drop that appears in the vapor of the air travels through a mountain stream, and grows into a great river that flows into the sea where waves form a dragon that rises up into the sky. This is a forty-meter scroll painting depicting the life of water on a grand scale. And that’s not the end of the story. The dragon in the sky turns into water drops again to live a new life. Taikan made free use of various techniques of suibokuga (sumi painting) to express his imposing view of nature and life where the vicissitude of all things was seen in the flow of water.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 15, 1967)

 

Kaburaki Kiyokata (1878-1972) Portrait of San'yutei Encho 1930

color on silk, hanging scroll
138.5 x 76.0 cm

 

San’yutei Encho (1839-1900) was a rakugo (comic monologue) storyteller in the Meiji period (1868-1912) known for his masterful presentation of tales of human compassion (ninjo-banashi). Kiyokata was familiar with Encho because he was an old friend of the painter’s father. In this piece showing the moment just before Encho begins his story, the storyteller kneels in the formal seiza position, fixing his eyes on the audience beyond the teacup. Kiyokata painted Encho’s personal appearance relying on memory, conveying the master’s intensity and tension through the piercing eyes and the firm mouth. The kimono, cushion and props were carefully depicted based on sketches of the relics.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on May 29, 2003)

 

Uemura Shoen (1875-1949) Mother and Child 1934

color on silk, framed, 168.0×115.5cm

 

A baby leans forward with one hand holding its mother’s kimono at the neck, and the mother holds the baby tight in her arms with an affectionate gaze. One common scene in everyday life has been elevated to a noble mother-and-child painting. Her mother’s death made Shoen often turn to the subject of motherhood. With this memorable piece first shown at the Imperial Academy’s art exhibition in autumn of the year of her mother’s death, Shoen broke new ground in her later years. Her portrayal of the skin, chignons and clothes shows her sensitivity and techniques that the painter acquired producing bijinga (‘pictures of beautiful women’).

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 27, 2011)

 

Yasuda Yukihiko (1884-1978) Camp at Kisegawa 1940/41

color on paper, a pair of six-fold screens, 167.7×374.0cm each

 

This is a scene from Azuma kagami, a historical account of the Kamakura shogunate, in which Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a younger brother of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the shogunate, hurries to the camp at Kisegawa after hearing that Yoritomo had raised an army. The stern composition with large blanks conveys the tension between the two warriors exchanging glances, creating chilliness that seems to suggest the tragedy awaiting the brothers. The painter is said to have consulted Yoritomo’s (now considered Ashikaga Tadayoshi’s) portrait housed in Jingo-ji, Kyoto, a Bishamonten (Vaishravana) statue from the Heian period (794–1185) for Yoshitsune’s image, and the descriptions in Gikeiki, an popular account of the life of Yoshitsune, for the costume, to produce this extraordinarily elaborate masterpiece of history painting.

(Designated an Important Cultural Property on June 27, 2011)

 

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