Saturday, 13 February 2010

Flayed Bonito

The other night Mrs Fool and I went to a floor talk at the Canterbury Museum. The talk, by Dr Richard Bullen of the Art History and Theory programme at the University of Canterbury (who, according to his profile on the university website, was voted Lecturer of the Year by students in the College of Arts in 2008), was presented in conjunction with the museum's Pleasure and Play in Edo Japan exhibition.

I was aware that the museum had a huge number of Japanese dolls, pottery, and other artifacts that never go on display, but what I didn't know is that they also have a sizable collection of Japanese paintings and woodblock prints from the Edo period. Most of these are part of a collection assembled by shipping magnate Sir Joseph Kinsey and donated to the museum in the middle of the 20th century by his daughter, May Moore. Only recently have these works been properly identified, and many of them are being exhibited for the first time.

Flayed Bonito (c.1847-1849) is one of two works in the exhibition attributed to Katsushika Hokusai, who's probably most famous for his print Great Wave off Kanagawa. The exhibition catalogue informs us that the fish's "mass, and its delicate, moist surface are rendered through the overlay of colours to describe the subtly modulated variations of hue in the lightly glowing pink, red and apricot striations of the flesh, the dense, dark tones of the skin, and the dancing highlights on its surface", but I'm sure you already knew that, and that the "anthropomorphic smile of the bonito introduces an element of humour and playfulness into the composition".

The exhibition runs until 7 March.

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