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Freer Gallery of Art Presents Exhibitions Celebrating the Importance of Seasons in Chinese and Japanese Art

“Seasons,” a series of five exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art fon view through through March 4, 2012, will explore the vast history of seasonal imagery and associations in Chinese and Japanese art. Highlighting the museum’s outstanding permanent collection, the exhibitions invite reflection on the importance of the cycle of seasons in East Asian culture and the prevelance of seasonal themes in art, literature and social customs.

Pavillion in the Winter Mountains, by Qi Kun (1894–1940); China, Modern period, 1933. Fan mounted as album leaf; ink and color on paper. Freer Gallery of Art F1998.270.2.

“The seasons have affected Japanese and Chinese art in profound and distinct ways,” said Ann Yonemura, senior associate curator of Japanese art. “In Japan, art and poetry reflect the gentle changes in climate resulting from the islands’ topography as an archipelago, whereas in China, art reflects the cycle of seasons through stunning landscape paintings of craggy cliffs, wide rivers and soaring mountains.”

From Dec. 18 through June 12, 2011, the exhibition “Seasons: Chinese Landscapes,” will explore the seasonal themes and activities that frequently appear in Chinese painting such as wandering in nature, visiting friends and composing poetry. The works also depict the unique moods and feelings associated with each season. “In the traditional Chinese approach to landscape painting, seasons inspire unique emotions, such as happiness and elation in spring, peaceful contentment in summer, melancholy and solemnity in autumn and quiet contemplation in winter,” said Stephen Allee, research specialist in Chinese art at the Freer and Sackler galleries. To allow Chinese voices to inform the interpretation of the works, the exhibition will also feature numerous translations of inscriptions, colophons and other directly related poems and texts.

From Dec. 24 through July 5, 2011, “Seasons: Japanese Screens” will offer an intimate perspective on seasonal images by providing a “door-frame” view into the natural world. The screens provide detailed glimpses of nature, such as a single chrysanthemum, as opposed to a sweeping landscape. A second group of seasonally themed screens will be on view July 9, 2011, through Jan. 22, 2012.

On display from Feb. 5, 2011, through Aug. 7, 2011, the exhibition “Seasons: Arts of Japan” will reflect the seasonal associations that have permeated Japanese poetry, art and customs from the earliest historical times, including cherry blossoms in spring and scarlet maples in autumn. The exhibition will include painting, lacquer ware, ceramics and calligraphy. A second group of season-related Japanese works will be on display Sept. 3, 2011, through March 4, 2012.

Concurrently, “Seasons: Tea,” will celebrate a dozen examples of how ceramic utensils used within a tea room were chosen to reflect and moderate the season, from rough stoneware conveying wintry chill to porcelain suggesting a summer breeze. The exhibition will also reveal how shapes adapt to the season: a deep cylindrical bowl keeps the tea warm, whereas a shallow open bowl is cool to the touch. “We know from a Japanese text dated circa 1500 that ceramic materials have long been seen as reflecting seasonal moods,” said Louise Cort, curator of ceramics. “The tea host uses many clues–tactile as well as visual–to attune the gathering’s guests to the season, even to the weather of that particular day.”

“Seasons: Flowers,” on display from July 2, 2011, through Jan. 8, 2012, offers paintings of Chinese flowers native to each season. Paintings will be organized in various groupings, such as wildflowers, garden flowers, aquatic flowers and flowering trees. Discussions of the seasonal symbolism of the plants and the various stylistic modes of depiction will be accompanied by scientific identifications and descriptions.

In conjunction with the “Seasons” exhibitions, a recording of a 2008 poetry reading and conversation at the Freer by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder will be available on the museum’s website as part of a related Explore + Learn feature. The recording includes readings from Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers without End, an epic celebration of nature and humanity that encompasses Asian artistic traditions, Native American storytelling and Zen Buddhist philosophy. In the recording, Snyder also explains how the scroll painting “Endless Mountains and Rivers,” which will be partially on display in “Seasons: Chinese Landscapes” (as well as digitally rendered in full for the general public starting Dec. 18 at, inspired his multiyear journey creating the work.

The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. Information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events is available at

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