Special Exhibition “Aves Japonicae (5) – A Labyrinth of Colors”


This exhibition reconstructs how Japanese artists gazed at birds, by showing drawings and the corresponding bird specimens side by side.
The birds drawn in Japanese art have a wide variety of colors, and artists have tried to represent them by making full use of their skills, resorting to such techniques as karazuri (literally “empty printing”, embossing by printing without color on the woodblock) in ukiyo-e and backside painting in nihonga.
Kawabe Kakyo’s Sketches of Birds series is a handbook for Japanese drawing called funpon, serving so to speak as a reference specimen drawn on paper. Here we can see how he struggled to reproduce the coloration of birds. On some drawings he attached real feathers on the paper to perfect his reference work.
Humans have been fascinated by flowers and birds of unusual colors and have created many cultivated variations. Likewise, the Japanese created numerous variations of Morning Glory or Golden Fish. In this exhibition, we present the Sketches of Birds drawn by an artist who named himself Yūchikusai, to show how he expressed the color patterns of wild birds and how he appreciated individual color variants he called fukawari. Some of those “variants” would be considered a different species according to modern ornithology: by resorting to both the artist’s and the scientist’s eyes, we offer these exhibits for a pleasant contemplation.

[Organizer] The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT)

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