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Japanese painting: The Rimpa school

The name 'Rimpa' describes a uniquely Japanese, highly decorative style of painting and applied arts, chiefly lacquer and ceramics, which flourished during the Edo period (1600-1868). It was named in the nineteenth century after one of the leading artists, Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716): Rimpa means 'school of Kōrin'.

In most Japanese painting schools there is a strict transmission of style down from teacher to pupil. The Rimpa style was different, with three peaks of activity approximately a century apart. The style was first formulated in Kyoto by Tawaraya Sōtatsu (worked about 1600-1640) as a revival of the classical courtly tradition and the Yamato-e painting style. As such it was also something of a self-conscious reaction by Kyoto artists against arts patronized by the recently established Tokugawa shogunate in Edo. Sōtatsu used traditional forms in a bold manner, often working with the calligrapher-ceramist Hon'ami Kōetsu (1558-1637) who inscribed poems on Sōtatsu's decorated papers. The second peak of Rimpa was around 1700 when Sōtatsu's style was revived by Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716). Kōrin also worked on lacquer designs, while his younger brother, Kenzan (1663-1743) produced brilliantly decorated ceramics. Finally in Edo about a century later Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828) and his students such as Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), staged a Rimpa revival which grew out of copying Kōrin's works. The later Rimpa artists concentrated on flower, or kachōga (bird-and-flower) subjects, often influenced by the new naturalistic wash style of the Maruyama and Shijō schools.

Rimpa paintings are often in the format of small handscrolls, album leaves and fans, but many folding screens were also made with gold and silver backgrounds.

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