Birds and flowers of the four seasons (17th century)
pair of six panel folding screens: ink gold paint and pigments on gold leaf on paper, lacquer on wood, paper, silk, metallic thread, brass
(a-b) 164.5 x 364.6 cm (image and sheet) (each)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the Yulgilbar Foundation, 2008
The exhibition Golden Screens will present Japanese screens, dated from the 17th to the 19th century, from the Asian collection. The golden screens evoke the sensuous beauty of brilliantly coloured flowers and birds, painted against a glistening background of gold paper. We will explore the aesthetic and stylistic aspects of the paintings, the structure and function of the Japanese free-standing folding screen, and the traditional Japanese house and garden.
Screens have developed as an indispensable element of Japanese architecture and an integral part of Japanese life. In traditional Japanese houses, beautifully painted screens were used not merely as decorations, but primarily as partitions or enclosures within interiors.
A traditional Japanese house is made of wood and paper and provides good ventilation. The essential structure is of wood. It is suitable to Japan’s humid summers and resilient to earthquakes.
The screens serving as sliding partitions are called either fusuma (a solid paper partition on a wooden frame), or shoji (a paper-windowed partition on a wooden frame). They serve as sliding doors as well as room dividers. The rooms are multi-functional and one big room is created by removing the shoji or fusuma partitions.
The third type, the free-standing folding screen (byobu), is presented in the present exhibition. Byobu had a remote origin in China, as they were quite commonly used in the Han Dynasty (206B.C.-221 A.D.).But the Japanese realized the full aesthetic potentialities of the byobu, making it a strikingly effective form of interior decoration.
The word ' byobu’ implies an 'enclosure' or a 'protection against’ (byo) the wind (bu), and the byobu was used as a temporary divider of interior space or as an enclosure outdoors. The byobu is particularly convenient, since it can be folded into a portable size and transported easily or stored away when not in use.
A byobu is most commonly made as a pair of six-fold screens. It is made of wood and paper; the panels are joined by paper hinges. Strips of paper are wrapped horizontally from the front of one panel to the back of the next, forming hinges.
Most of the screens so lavishly decorated with colourful paintings were produced from the late sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as demonstrated in the present exhibition. The screens are painted with hawks, egrets, pine trees, reeds and flowers of the four seasons, thus bringing nature from the garden to the interior of the house. The bold designs and jewel-like colours against a shining gold background not only enrich the interior but also express the power and wealth of the imperial palace, the military ruler, the samurai-warriors and the emerging merchant class.