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"Rusticity Refined: Kyoto Ceramics by Ninsei" at the Freer Gallery March 19–October 23, 2005
Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor, 202.633.0523
Public only: 202.633.1000

January 10, 2005

Generally considered to be one of Japan's greatest potters, Nonomura Ninsei (active circa 1646–1677) is best known for his innovative transposition of Kyoto painting traditions to jewel-toned enamel decorations on elegant, thinly-thrown vessels. Although the widespread adoption of this new aesthetic heralded a shift to Kyoto as the center of ceramic interpretation, Ninsei himself continued to maintain a broad repertory. He also produced ceramics that "quoted" from the radically different clays, robust, generous shapes and sensuously applied glazes of more rustic, regional tea wares of the Momoyama period (1568–1615).

On March 19, the Freer Gallery will open a small exhibition featuring 11 ceramics: five by Ninsei together with six works of the sort from which he quoted. The exhibit invites visitors to identify the source and measure the distance between Ninsei's refined Kyoto works and the rural prototypes that were his source of inspiration.

Works on view are paired for comparative purposes and include:

  • A prototypically rustic Takatori ware vase with overlapping glazes in shades of chocolate and pale blue and a Satsuma ware tea caddy by late–16th century Korean immigrant potters, juxtaposed with a tea-ceremony water jar by Ninsei and a tea caddy made by a later Kyoto potter emulating Ninsei's style
  • A rounded Ninsei tea-leaf storage jar, whose shape and dark brown glazes bear direct reference to the late 16th-century Seto ware jar on view
  • A 17th-century cylindrical vase in the shape of a "traveling pillow" that was made by a Shigaraki potter and a tea-ceremony rinse-water bowl, decorated by Ninsei, with a splash of ash glaze that evokes the natural deposits of melted ash on old Shigaraki storage jars
  • A simply-thrown, Agano ware tea bowl made by an immigrant Korean potter working in early 17th-century Japan and a smooth-surfaced, foliate-rimmed tea ceremony rinse-water bowl by Ninsei, both of which are coated with a rice-straw ash or rice-hull ash glaze that appears milky white in thick areas and opalescent blue where thin
  • Two lustrous black tea bowls; the first, Black Seto ware produced in the Mino kilns during the late 16th century, and the second, more refined version created by Ninsei and decorated with his trademark floral motifs rendered in enamels

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily, except Wednesdays and public holidays and are subject to docent availability. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries' website.

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