An ethereal beauty runs through the Harvard Art Museums’ new exhibit of Japanese paintings drawn from one of the largest and most significant gifts of art ever promised to the University. The more than 120 works that occupy all four of the museums’ third-floor temporary exhibition galleries have been carefully curated from the Feinberg Collection, a trove of more than 300 decorative scrolls, folding screens, fans, woodblock-printed books, sliding doors, and other works. The collection assembled by Robert ’61 and Betsy Feinberg highlights the range and richness of early modern Japanese painting during the Edo period, 1615‒1868.
“They have collected so carefully and with such dedication over the years that they have formed a comprehensive collection. It really allows us to look at the whole gamut of Edo painting, which is incredibly diverse,” said Rachel Saunders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art at the museums, one of the curators of the new show. “It’s a comprehensive history of Japanese art through objects.”
The Feinbergs’ love affair with Japanese works began almost 50 years ago on a trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the young couple purchased a poster for $2. “Our imagination was captured by its image of a painted 17th-century Nanban screen — a robust, naïve view of a Portuguese sailing ship moored in Nagasaki harbor, manned by strange-looking men with prominent noses and curly moustaches, dressed in outlandish pantaloons and flamboyant hats,” they told the arts magazine Orientations earlier this year. “Edo Japan had never seen anything like them, and neither had we!”