Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Opens Waves at Matsushima Exhibition Honors Japan’s Beloved Pine Islands


Long revered as one of Japan’s most beautiful sites, Matsushima Bay endured the unleashing of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11. Despite its proximity to the epicenter of the underwater earthquake, the site is one of the few places along the Sanriku coast that sustained less damage, mostly due to the buffering effect of the bay’s 260 pine-studded islands that lend the area its name. “Waves at Matsushima,” on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery May 28 through July 5 pays homage to this iconic coastal site.

Katsura Island, Matsushima. Kawase Hasui (1883–1957); (detail) From the series Souvenirs of Travels, First Collection; Japan, summer 1919; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Robert O. Muller Collection S2003.8.574

“Waves at Matsushima,” on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from May 28 through July 5, pays homage to this iconic coastal site. For centuries artists and poets have been drawn to the beauty of Matsushima and its Buddhist temple complex, interpreting the breathtaking landscape in words and images. Their paintings and prints not only record an area now altered by the recent earthquake and tsunami, they also pay homage to Japan, its history and its art, and the resilience of its people and land.

“We feel privileged to display such beautiful objects of Japanese cultural memory, offering our visitors an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of this cataclysm,” said James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art. “These idealized images represent the hope inspired by great natural beauty, and while the silhouette of the place has been altered, Matsushima as an icon will sustain people in a difficult time.”

The exhibition features four prints by Kawase Hasui, a painter and print designer who worked to revive traditional Japanese woodblock prints in the early twentieth century. Hasui repeatedly depicted the quiet rhythm of life and the cycle of the seasons at Matsushima. His prints present romantic views of Matsushima in the moonlight, a fantastical rock formation at Zaimoku Island, and snow on the famous Buddhist temple Godaido, a site that miraculously withstood the tsunami’s waves.

Three hundred years earlier, Tawaraya Sotatsu, an artist active in the early seventeenth century, created a pair of screens, also on view, representing waves at Matsushima. The brilliant paintings on this pair of folding screens are considered to be among the masterpieces of the Freer collection, made by one of the Edo period’s most talented and innovative artists.

For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs, and other events, the public may visit

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