THE FOUR SEASONS Etchings and prints at Japan Museum Sieboldhuis, Leiden

Japan Museum Sieboldhuis campaign image (detail) for the FOUR SEASONS exhibition.

At Leiden’s Japan Museum Sieboldhuis, visitors are treated to two exhibitions. A small one called “The Four Seasons” and a larger one, called “Subtle Beauty”.

The colourful small exhibition shows prints by artists like Kunisada, Yoshitoshi and Koson. These are grouped according to season. Topics include scenes from tales and legends, but also traditional celebrations or actors in famous scenes. All prints were gifted to the museum by collectors Muck and Mieke Douma.

“Subtle Beauty” on the other hand, contains mainly black-and-white images. These are modern etchings created by artist Tanaka Ryōhei (1933). The artist believes in pursuing perfection in all he does? He has reached it in all the exhibited works.

Like Rembrandt before him, Tanaka is inspired by traditional and sometimes dilapidated farm buildings, as well as rural scenes. Like Rembrandt, Tanaka also likes to experiment and occasionally uses colour in prints. A subtle use of point of view may stress height, or width. What strikes visitors most: regardless of which etching techniques are used, the results are impressive and perfect.

Prints show abandoned traditional farms, roofs, temples, trees, a fishing harbour. Occasionally, a shadow hints at a human being about to pass. Or a snoozing cat seems to have taken over the running of a farm. The artist traveled around the country, but most images capture real scenes in and around Kyoto.

Here is beauty in decay, serenity and infinite time: poetry. Many of the images deserved to be looked at for a while. Such a study will reveal how sketches must have been turned into these works using different techniques. The artist’s patience, effort and mastery dazzle.

Especially Tanaka’s winter scenes, occasionally including falling snow, impress. But heath and the burning light of mid-summer in a rural corner, or striking autumn colours, are also rendered perfectly.

Visitors should not be surprised that this master of etching techniques is ranked among the most popular contemporary Japanese print makers. Born in Takatusuki City, Osaka, he studied etching from 1963 and started exhibiting from 1966 onward. By now unfortunately, the artist no longer has the strength to create his stunning, perfect etchings and prints.

Unlike the prints in the smaller exhibition, Tanaka’s works were not created using woodblocks. Visitors will also come across aquatint and mezzotint examples, techniques explained in this exhibition. Whatever techniques this master used, many of his prints resemble photos.

Among the stunning images are prints like “Nagayamon Gate”, “Ine” (harbour), “Wooden Poles in Yogo”, “View of a Roof”, “Great Ginko Tree” and of course the print of a temple, used to promote this exhibition. Unfortunately, no images of exhibited works are on sale as cards or posters in accordance with the artist’s wishes.    Kate   31st October 2019

Both exhibitions run till 19th of January 2020