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RED AND WHITE PLUM BLOSSOMS

 

The work of Ogata Korin (1658 - 1716) was influenced by that of Tawaraya Sotatsu (fl. early seventeenth century). Korin's original style is embodied in the composition of this pair of paintings of plum trees and a stream on twofold screens. Most of the trunk of the white-plum tree on the left-hand screen is hidden, in contrast with the full trunk of the red-plum tree on the right-hand screen. The trees are separated by a stream that flows between them, and Korin's composition completely fills the screens. Plum blossoms drawn without outlines in the petals were later referred to as "Korin plums". The branches and trunks of the trees are executed in a wet-pigment technique called tarashikomi, and the water is rendered in stylized loops with sharp forms. Korin's own style produces a harmonous rhythm with elegant taste. This pair of screens is considered to represent the height of his maturity as an artist. The screens formerly belonged to the Tsugaru family.

The year 1953 saw the beggining of discussions for the acquisition of Ogata's Kōrin pair of twofold screens Red and White Plum Blossoms, a work that Master Jinsai had long aspired to own. But negociations were foundering over the price. Yasunosuke Ogiwara, who was the negotiator, suggested that if Master Jinsai were willing to pay two or three million yen more, he could have the screens. Commenting that he did not think it would cripple the church to meet such a price, he urged Master Jinsai to make the offer. The advice was encouraging. Master Jinsai loved Kōrin's works dearly and had long dreamed of acquiring Red and White Plum Blossoms - a work the Japanese government has designated a National Treasure - but suddenly he replied firmly that his church's funds consisted of donations from its members and that he could not casually spend such a large sum of money. That was the end of the discussion.

The next time the matter came up was a year later. Ogiwara told Master Jinsai that the owner had no intention of lowering the price. He also said that once ownership changed, there would be no hope of ever acquiring the screens. Undoubtedly, many thoughts went through Master Jinsai's mind, but he reached a decision. There was no alternative: the church would buy the screens at the owner's price. Thus Master Jinsai added this world-renowned work of art ti the collection he was building for the church.

 

Red and White Plum Blossoms

Ogata Kōrin, circa 1710, Edo Period

Pair of twofold screens, colors on silver and gold leaf over paper

Each screen: height 156.0 cm, width 172.2 cm.

National Treasure

 

Red and White Plum Blossoms has long been recognized as a masterpiece of Japanese art. Before Master Jinsai acqired them, the pair of screens had a strange history. Until the end of World War II, they had been in the collection of the Tsugaru family, who had once been daimyo - feudal lords. In an air raid during the war, an incendiary bomb fell on the family treasure house in which the screens were stored, along with other heirlooms. The crates in which the screens were stored began to smolder. Just as it seemed that the screens themselves would go up in flames, a family retainer managed to douse the flames, and the screens were saved. After the war they passed from hand to hand: they were kept in corners of digny offices and were stuffed into barrackslike warehouses. Conditions were so perilous that it is a wonder the screens survived. Following this odyssey, the screens eventually came into the hands of Master Jinsai, who was so fond of Kōrin's work.

For Master Jinsai personally and in terms of God's work, the purchase of Red and White Plum Blossoms had great meaning. Then, too, Master Jinsai's connection with Kōrin had begun at birth. The threads of his connection with Kōrin, which are sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle indeed, indicate the depth of the bond between him and Ogata Kōrin.

Of all the Rimpa-style artists, Master Jinsai especially loved Kōrin. He named His first shop after Kōrin, and afterward, when He was developing many new products and designs, His affection for the artist grew. This attachment is also seen clearly in His 1907 call on Kakuzo Okakura, when Master Jinsai was engrossed in a discussion about art until late at night. Following World War II, when full-scale construction of the Sacred Grounds began, Master Jinsai created gardens that embodied the beauty of the Rimpa style in the three-dimensional world at the Hakone grounds, in front of Mountain-view Lodge, and in the plum garden and on the azalea hill of Atami. Throughout Master Jinsai's life He had a strong affinity for the art of the Rimpa school and especially of its central figure, Ogata Kōrin. Thus, the acquisition of Red and White Plum Blossoms was a significant event both in Master Jinsai's own life and in terms of the divine task of building an ideal world.

 

 

Auspiciously, the Red and White Plum Blossoms screens were delivered to Master Jinsai's Minaguchi-cho residence, in Atami, on the morning of February 4, 1954, the first day of spring according to the traditional Oriental calendar. It is on the first day of spring that living things awaken and return to life after their winter's rest. Spiritually it is a day of joy, when the power of God waxes. Master Jinsai immediately had the screens set up in the living room. With deep pleasure, he gazed at the screens many times that day. Something wonderful took place today, he said in the preface to His remarks at the service observing the beginning of spring. I will be able to speak of it later. It is a part of God's prototype of the future and is auspicious indeed.

Because Red and White Plum Blossoms had been designated a National Treasure, in accordance with provisions of the Cultural Properties Law, its change of ownership could not be made public until certain formalities had been completed. But Master Jinsai's comment alluded to the purchase of Red and White Plum Blossoms, and He believed that the auspicious deliveryof that famous work on the first day of spring was a joyful occasion, one that pressaged continued growth of the church.

 

 

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