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The Genius of Shibata Zeshin: Japanese Masterworks
from the Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection

October 13, 2007–January 6, 2008

Minneapolis, August 15, 2007—One of Japan’s most highly regarded lacquer artists is the subject of the exhibition “The Genius of Shibata Zeshin: Japanese Masterworks from the Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection.” Opening October 13 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), this exhibition features fifty-seven of Zeshin’s works from the largest and finest privately held collection in the United States. Amassed by San Antonio natives Kay and Tom Edson, the collection is remarkable for its variety and quality, ranging from beautifully embellished lacquered boxes, trays, inro (carrying containers) and netsuke (toggles), to captivating hanging scrolls and albums painted with a unique technique developed by Zeshin.

On view through January 6, this exhibition transports visitors back to the nineteenth century when Japan, a closed country for nearly three hundred years, first opened to foreign trade. The world was astonished to discover a culture that placed high value on sophisticated artistic design and superb craftsmanship. Before his death in 1891, Zeshin had gained a national and international reputation; his lacquers were exhibited in expositions in Vienna (1875), Philadelphia (1876), and Paris (1878). This exhibition, the only one in over twenty years, chronicles the determined efforts of two American collectors to acquire objects that reflect Zeshin’s artistic daring.

Exacting craftsmanship, unusual materials, and a delightful sense of design distinguish Zeshin’s lacquers. Inventive and curious, Zeshin developed many new lacquering techniques. One of the most important was a lacquer formula that allowed him to paint on paper and silk. After the lacquer set, it remained pliable enough to allow for painted hanging scrolls to be rolled in the traditional manner. Among the examples included in this exhibition is a scroll showing a flowering vine. Painted in transparent amber lacquer, the petals seem delicate and light, while a cricket clinging to the underside of a blossom adds an element of surprise.

Zeshin was born the son of working-class parents in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1807. At the age of eleven, he apprenticed with Koma Kansai II (1766 to 1835), head of one of Japan’s oldest and most famous lacquer studios. After five years, he left to study painting with Suzuki Nanrei (1775 to 1844) and, later, Okamoto Toyohiko (1773 to 1845) in Kyoto. Almost a decade later, Zeshin returned to Edo as an accomplished painter. Shortly thereafter he took over the Koma studio, launching his extremely prolific career as both a lacquerer and painter.

A fully illustrated color catalogue accompanies this exhibition. Published by the San Antonio Museum of Art, Zeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection features an essay by Joe Earle, Director of Japan Society Gallery (formerly at Museum of Fine Arts Boston) and object explanations by Dr. Sebastian Izzard, formerly head of Christie’s Japanese and Korean art division in New York. The catalogue is available from the MIA museum shop for $38.50.

National tour venues for this exhibition are the San Antonio Museum of Art (February 17–May 6, 2007), the Minneapolis Institute of Art (October 13, 2007–January 6, 2008), and the Japan Society Gallery in New York (March 28–June 15, 2008).

This exhibition is organized by the San Antonio Museum of Art.

About the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses nearly 100,000 works of art representing more than 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt, Poussin, and van Gogh; modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Stella, and Close; as well as internationally significant collections of prints and drawings, decorative arts, Modernist design, photographs, prints and drawings, and Asian, African, and Native American art. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Monday closed. For more information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit

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