The Museum of Imperial Collections ‘Sannomaru Shozokan’ is holding its 12th exhibition called “Modern Japanese Sculpture - The Glory of the Conservative Traditional School”. Generally, well known modern Japanese sculptures are the bronze pieces of the Taisho Period and after, by Ogiwara Morie and Takamura Kotaro which were deeply influenced by modern western sculpture such as Rodin. However, it must not be forgotten that there was a trend differing from this western sculpture geneology, using Japanese traditional techniques since the Edo period continued to the present day.
The traditional sculpture expressions in early Meiji period were based on two types of sculpture, namely the buddhist sculptures and the ivory sculptures represented by netsuke. The intricate ivory sculptures were especially favored by westerners throughout the Meiji Era, and a great amount were exported. At the same time, in the Kobu Bijutsu Gakko (Art School attached to the Technical College) established in 1876, Vincenzo Ragusa, an Italian sculptor, the teacher of the Sculpture department until 1882, formed the basics of Japanese western sculpture.
However, in reaction towards the rapid westernization, a trend of nationalism occurred in which traditional Japanese art was revalued. The comeback of wooden buddhist sculpture technique was especially attempted by the buddhist sculptors who had declined since the anti-buddhist movement during the Meiji Restoration. Then, since 1889, a great trend of Japanese traditional sculpture expression mainly of wooden sculptures was formed started from the newly established Tokyo Art School Sculpture Department. The main sculptors of this conservative traditional school were Takamura Koun, Yamada Kisai, and Koun’s student Yamazaki Choun. They created their work with realistic expression by traditional techniques from the Edo period, developing their artistic expressions exhibiting in the Nihon Bijutsu Kyokai, Tokyo Chokokai, and from 1907 when the Monbusho Bijutsu Tenrankai (Ministry of Education Art Exhibition) began, they exhibited mainly in the government exhibitions. Many of their motifs were Japanese gods, persons in historical myths, or Court and shrine events such as bugaku dances, along with animals and birds. Their formative characteristics were often quite similar to crafts and figurines, with exclusive bases attached, and often the term “okimono”(ornament) was included in the title. This shows that the boundaries of these formative divisions were quite vague, which symbolizes the unique Japanese spirit in which all borders are ambiguous. Other than this, there were a number of war motifs during the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War reflecting the social conditions. However, since the modeling department was established in the Tokyo Art Schoo1 in 1889, which taught western sculpture, Japan’s sculpture world gradually became dominated by western sculptures such as bronzes.
This exhibition attempts to introduce the art of 10 artists, mainly sculptors of the conservative traditional school including sculptors who exhibited in government exhibitions showing a blend of Japanese and western styles such as Ikeda Yuhachi, through 29 of our museum’s wooden and cast sculptures. They had not necessarily received just evaluation within modern Japanese art history. We hope you will rediscover the other charm of modern Japanese sculpture which is apt to be forgotten.