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Common Pleasures: Art of Urban Life in Edo Japan

Sat Apr 15 – Sun Oct 22 2017

Seattle Art Museum

Third Floor Galleries

Japan saw an urban culture bloom during the Edo period (1603–1868). Residents in growing city centers, especially in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Kyoto, and Osaka, participated in many pastimes: theater, pleasure quarters, and festivals were among the most popular ones. Townspeople—made up of artisans and merchants, the two lower classes in the social hierarchy of the Edo period—became the catalyst of a vibrant artistic landscape.

These paintings depict popular indulgences such as letting loose in the company of courtesans and seasonal events such as picnicking under cherry blossoms in the spring and dancing at festivals. The primary philosophical view of the time—“live for the moment”—fostered an aesthetic that is manifested in much of the art that engaged subjects dear to the townspeople’s sensibilities. Drawn from Seattle Art Museum as well as a private collection, the works on view showcase a diversity of leisure activities and common pleasures of ordinary people.

Image: Picnicking under Cherry Blossoms and Boating on the River,, mid 18th century, Nishikawa Sukenobu, pair of six-panel screens; ink, color and gold on paper, 40 x 18 1/2 in., "Gift to a City: Masterworks From the Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection in the Seattle Art Museum," Portland, OR: Portland Art Museum, 1965, no. 141., 62.133.1.