Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting

Provides Groundbreaking Consideration of Collaborative Art-Making 

PRINCETON, NJ–In Japan, as in many other cultures, collective creativity played—and still plays—a significant role in art-making. Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Paintingprovides a new look at collective art-making by focusing on two kinds of cooperative painting practices—workshop and collaborative—in 18th-century Japan. On view from Saturday, October 8, 2011 through Sunday, January 22, 2012, Multiple Hands includes works drawn from the Museum’s own holdings as well as key loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a private collection.

Both workshop and collaborative painting practices in Japan have involved multiple artists in the production of individual works of art. In the workshop system, the head of the studio designed the composition of a painting, often a large-format work, while his assistants executed the details and applied the colors. Only the master’s name was signed, however, making the presence of multiple hands in the paintings’ creation sometimes difficult to discern. Multiple Hands makes clear, according to Museum Director James Steward, that “collective art-making formed an essential part of painting production in early modern Japan and thus is central to the history of Japanese art.”

A pair of large hanging scrolls in the exhibition, Four Accomplishments, is representative of the Kano school workshop—a prodigious hereditary apprentice system organized by generations of the Kano family from the 16th to the 19th century. Signed by the head of the workshop, Kano Tsunenobu (1636–1713), these two paintings on silk reveal the brushwork styles of more than one artist, especially in the background.

“The various painting styles indicate the involvement of multiple workshop members in producing Four Accomplishments, two scrolls that present the four accomplishments of man—chess, music, reading, and painting,” said the Museum’s Associate Curator of Asian Art Xiaojin Wu, who organized the exhibition to bring attention to the collective creativity that has contributed to countless important works of Japanese art.

The participation of several artists in collaborative paintings is more explicit, as multiple hands are openly acknowledged through each artist’s signature or seal. In 18th-century Japan, artists—particularly those who emulated Chinese literati painters—began to work collectively in composing paintings. Such leading painters as Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795) and Tani Bunchō (1763–1841) participated in gatherings at which they and their friends painted spontaneously. In these works, each artist painted a part of the composition and signed his name.

“One large scroll, Miscellaneous Paintings and Calligraphy for the Third Year of the Bunsei Era, (1820), which is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum for the exhibition, is a prime example of collaborative Japanese painting,” Wu noted. “This work is signed by three major painters—Tani Bunchō, Watanabe Kazan, and Sakai Hôitsu—and the signatures of 66 additional artists also are recorded on the painting. This open acknowledgement of the participation of many artists in creating these paintings invites viewers to search for and compare numerous individual styles within a single work of art,” Wu added.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Art Museum will host “An Evening of Japanese Art and Culture,” Thursday, November 3, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Attendees will enjoy the art, food and entertainment of Japan during this free event.

Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting has been made possible by the generous support of The Mercer Trust; the John B. Elliott, Class of 1951, Fund for Asian Art; the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; and the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University. Additional support has been provided by the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.About the Princeton University Art Museum Founded in 1882, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the nation’s leading art museums. Its collections feature more than 72,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary, and concentrating geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Museum collections are particularly strong in Chinese painting and calligraphy, art of the Ancient Americas, and pictorial photography. 

Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. The Museum is intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, offering a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art, and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture. 

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free highlight tours of the collections are given every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. 

For more information please contact Becky E. Adamietz-Deo at (609) 258-5662 or (609) 216-2547 or visit the Museum’s Web site.