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Rimpa: A School of Japanese Art

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"Red and White Plum Blossoms" by Ogata Korin

"Red and White Plum Blossoms" by Ogata Korin

What Is Rimpa (Rinpa)?

Rimpa (or Rinpa) is one of the major historical schools of Japanese painting. The school traces its origins back to the 17th century and credits Ho'ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu as its progenitors, but Rimpa is the product of Ogata Korin. The name Rimpa comes from Korin's name and the character "pa," which means school.

"Autumn Flowers and Moon" by Sakai Hoitsu

"Autumn Flowers and Moon" by Sakai Hoitsu

A Short History of Rimpa

Hon'ami Koetsu founded an artistic community of craftsmen supported by wealthy merchant patrons of the Nichiren Buddhist sect in Kyoto in 1615. Both the wealthy merchant class and the old Kyoto aristocracy favored arts that followed classical traditions, and thus Koetsu made numerous works of ceramics, calligraphy, and lacquerware.

Tawaraya Sotatsu, Koetsu's collaborator, maintained a workshop in Kyoto and produced commercial paintings like decorative fans and folding screens. He also specialized in making decorated paper with gold or silver backgrounds. Koetsu then added calligraphy to these pieces.

Both artists came from families of great importance; Koetsu came from a family of swordsmiths who had served the imperial court and the great warlords, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the Ashikaga Shoguns. Koetsu's father evaluated swords for the Maeda clan, as did Koetsu himself. However, Koetsu was less concerned with swords and favored painting, calligraphy, lacquerwork, and the Japanese tea ceremony. His own painting style was flamboyant, like the aristocratic style of the Heian period (794–1185).

Sotatsu also pursued the classical Yamato-e genre, but he also pioneered a new technique with bold outlines and striking color schemes. One his most famous works are the folding screens Wind and Thunder Gods.

The Rimpa school fell into neglect in the early Edo period but was revived in the Genroku era (1688–1704) by Ogata Korin and his younger brother Ogata Kenzan, sons of a prosperous Kyoto textile merchant. Korin's innovation was to depict nature in an abstract way by using numerous color and hue gradations, mixing colors on the surface to achieve eccentric effects, and making liberal use of precious substances like gold and pearl.

Rimpa was revived again in 19th-century Edo by Sakai Hoitsu, a Kanto school artist whose family had been one of Ogata Korin's sponsors. Sakai published a series of 100 woodcut prints based on paintings by Korin and is known for his painting Summer and Autumn Grasses.

Characteristics of Rimpa Style

Rimpa art tends to follow three stylistic themes:

  1. The continuation and reworking of Soutatsu's style
  2. The use of classic literature like The Tale of Genji, The Tale of Ise, and poetry by 36 of the great poets
  3. Standard Yamato-e themes depicting birds, flowers, and the four seasons

Rimpa is distinguished by its lavish and bright colors and gold and silver backgrounds. It's also known for its extravagant and flamboyant nature. Precious stones are used in bright colors, and gold and silver leaf are employed as well. Rimpa was loved by the Chounin, or merchant class. Rimpa was used in wall hangings, folding screens, ceramics, and lacquer.

"Wind God and Thunder God" by Ogata Korin

"Wind God and Thunder God" by Ogata Korin

Famous Rimpa Art Pieces and Where You Can See Them

  • Wind and Thunder Gods by Sotatsu: Freer Gallery Washington D.C
  • Red and White Plum Trees by Ogata Korin: at Museum of Art in Atami, Shizuoka
  • Iris by Ogata Korin: The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
  • Rough Waves Ogata Korin: The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
  • Cosmetic Box with Fan-Shaped Paintings by Ogata Korin: The Museum Yamato Bunkakan, Nara
  • Water Birds in Lotus Pond by Tawaraya Sotatsu: Kyoto National Museum (this painting is considered a national treasure of Japan)
  • Cranes by Suzuki Kiitsu: Feinberg Collection, USA
  • Lidded Vessel Pines and Waves Design in Underglaze Blue with Gold and Silver Decoration by Ogata Kenzan: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo
  • Summer and Autumn Grasses by Sakai Hoitsu: Tokyo National Museum
  • Amagumo by Hon'ami Koetsu: Mitsui Memorial Museum, Tokyo
  • Autumn Flowers and Moon by Sakai Hoitsu: Tokyo National Museum
  • White Camellias and Autumn Grasses by Suzuki Kiitsu: Freer Gallery Washington D.C

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Tell me what you think

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on June 11, 2011:

Never heard of Rimpa before. It is beautiful. Thanks!

sponias lm on June 03, 2011:

Beautiful paintings!

anonymous on June 01, 2011:

I liked these paintings. Thanx a lot for introducing me to a new school of Art.