Famous Japanese Paintings

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Japan has a distinct art culture, completely different from North American artwork which draws upon European influences. Many Japanese paintings are painted on wood, or rice paper; a favored medium with traditional Japanese artists. The earliest surviving paintings are murals painted onto temple walls, dating to roughly 300-400 A.D.

The Great Wave by Hokusai

  • This woodblock painting is one of the most famous Japanese paintings in the world. It depicts Mt. Fuji seen from the perspective of the ocean. The picture is framed by large, curved waves that illustrate the movement of the ocean. Traditional Japanese fishing boats can be seen being consumed by the waves. Hokusai painted over 30,000 paintings and critics today note that his paintings were distinct to common Japanese paintings of the era (18th century) by their depiction of common fisherman and focus on nature.

Shi Shi by Ando Hiroshige

  • Japanese artists commonly depict mythical and supernatural creatures in their paintings. The Shi Shi painting by Ando Hiroshige, depicts two Shi Shi stalking the mountains. Shi Shi are "lion dogs," mythical beasts that repel evil spirits. Commonly found carved at the front of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples they are similar to the foo dogs of the Chinese. Painted in full color onto wood the painting was made widely available through woodblock printing in both color and black and white.

Scroll of 55 Famous Places Associated with the Avatamsaka Sutra, 12th Century

  • These hand painted, rice paper scrolls hang in the Tokyo National Museum. It tells the story of Zenzai, who meets the wisdom bodhisattva, Monju. These scrolls are painted with a fine brush with light ink, giving fine detail to the scrolls. Color is used sparingly to draw attention to main elements within the story. Scroll paintings such as these were popular in the 12th century but most have been lost.

Beauties Beneath Trees, 8th Century

  • Beauties Beneath Trees, is a collection of paintings that are painted onto rice paper screens. Each screen painting shows a beautiful woman dressed in traditional costume, either standing or sat on a rock by a tree. All the detail is painted with black ink. Slight color is used on the exposed flesh of the figures. Originally feathers decorated the blank areas of the paintings adding more color.

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