Edited by Yukio Lippit. National Gallery of Art, Distributed by Yale University Press, 2018. ISBN 9780300214673 (h/c), $70.00.

Reviewed July 2019
John Stucky,Library Director, C. Laan Chun Library, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

LippitThe Artist in Edo is a collection of twelve essays by significant scholars of Japanese art such as Louise Allison Cort, Yukio Lippit, Mathew McKelway, Timon Screech, Emura Tomoko, Kono Motoaki, and Timothy Clark among others. The papers stem from a symposium held at the National Gallery of Art in April of 2012 in conjunction with the special exhibition: Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800). This exhibition encouraged an examination of both Jakuchu and his era and of the ways in which the status of the artist changed, in some rather radical ways, during the course of the Edo period (1600-1868). This transformation is the overarching theme of The Artist in Edo.

In recent decades art historians have produced significant works focused on the lives of artists within the context of their social milieu. James Cahill’s study: The Painters Practice : How Artists Lived and Worked in Traditional China (1994) and Craig Clunas’: Elegant Debts : The Social Art of Wen Zhengming, 1470-1559 (2004) are examples. However, The Artist in Edo is one of the first significant examinations of Japanese artists within the social and economic context of their lives.

The essays provide a fresh look at the lives and roles of artists during the Edo period. Consideration is also given to how their lives reflected this transitional period of Japan’s history. Artists like Jakuchu, now considered one of the more important painters of early modern Japan, represent this transition. As a member of the merchant class, Jakuchu embodies an emerging break from the older established schools of artists serving specific high-level military and aristocratic classes such as the Kano and Tosa schools. This is a much-needed approach that provides an extremely necessary and important perspective in the study of East Asian art.

The style of the writing is scholarly, informative, and clearly presented, yet also entertaining. The Artist in Edo will provide excellent reading for both undergraduate and graduate alike. It is well-suited for anyone with an interest in Japan’s visual culture whether scholar, collector, or connoisseur, or even a novice to Japan’s culture. The Artist in Edo, a large, hardcover book, is beautifully produced with mostly full color plates. Each essay is accompanied by bibliographical notes. The book includes a comprehensive index as well as brief biographies of each of the contributors.