September 13, 2023

Do you know about Rinpa?

Rinpa is a school of Japanese art that originated in the Momoyama period (late 16th to early 17th century) and flourished throughout the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries). One feature that distinguishes Rinpa from other famous schools like Kano and Tosa is that it was not formed based on familial or direct master-disciple relationships, but rather through respect and homage for the works of predecessors.

Wind God Fujin (right) and Thunder God Raijin (left) by Tawaraya Sotatsu.
Wind God Fujin (right) and Thunder God Raijin (left) by Tawaraya Sotatsu.

The roots of Rinpa are generally traced back to two artists, Hon’ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatsu. Sotatsu established the unique techniques and styles of Rinpa, such as using gold and silver foil for backgrounds and employing unique ink shading. Through collaborations with Koetsu, they created works that integrated calligraphy and painting, a legacy that was later completed by Ogata Korin, who admired Sotatsu. Incidentally, the term “Rinpa” was coined from the ‘Rin’ in Korin’s name.

Ogata Korin: Irisis, right screen, 151x360 cm. Ink, color and gold on paper, begin. 18th-century. Nezu Art Museum.
Ogata Korin: Irisis, right screen, Nezu Art Museum.

Another hundred years later, Sakai Hoitsu admired Ogata Korin and continued this tradition. Thus, Rinpa evolved as an art form influenced by admired predecessors, forming a lineage of sensibility that transcends generations. In this sense, Rinpa is not just a genre or style name, but a lineage of taste passed down through “private admiration.”

Summer and autumn flower plants
Summer and autumn flower plants by Sakai Hōitsu

Characteristics of Rinpa

The defining feature of Rinpa is its departure from traditional artistic norms, simplifying and stylizing subjects to create visual intrigue. Specifically, it has the following features:

  1. Color: Bright colors and delicate uses of gold and silver foil.
  2. Nature: Natural elements like flowers, birds, wind, and water often serve as the themes.
  3. Ornamentation: Extreme ornamentation and formal beauty are sought after.
  4. Unique Composition: The compositions are often intricate and innovative, frequently featuring asymmetry.

Relation Between Rinpa and Contemporary Kogei Art

The influence of Rinpa is not only evident in contemporary kogei arts but also in modern Japanese art, particularly in modernism and post-modernism of the 20th century and beyond. Its aesthetics, which combine ornamentation and formalism, have also made a significant impact on international design and art. In a 2004 exhibition called “RIMPA” at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Rinpa-like qualities were noted not only in modern Japanese paintings (such as those by Hashida Sojiro, Yokoyama Taikan, etc.) but also in the works of Klimt, Warhol, and Matisse.

Therefore, Rinpa is far from being forgotten in the history of Japanese culture and art. Rather, its ornamentation, views of nature, and sense of color continue to live on in modern craft art and design.

Among the works exhibited in this year’s Kogei Art KYOTO, there are pieces that use Rinpa as a motif or show its influence.

Do you know about Rinpa?
Toki Hata Music of Spring (from “Celebrating 400 Years of Rimpa”)