One thing + another thing 3

YouTube has provided much enjoyable entertainment over the past year or so and at present I’m watching some of the long-running University Challenge series. One picture question showed a painting and it was name the artist. I was wrong (and so were the students) but it put me very much in mind of a Japanese artwork. Well, Dr Charles Cramer and Dr Kim Grant were there before me and feature the pairing below on the Smart History website in A-level: Japonisme (as well as many other interesting pairings).

Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5 James Whistler. Presented by the Art Fund 1905. Image: Tate Gallery

shipping oars
I hold my breath to hear
snow on the water

David Steele
from Haiku Ancient & Modern (2002)

The Tate Gallery site notes that Whistler would set off with his oarsmen at twilight and sometimes remain on the Thames all night, sketching and memorising the scene. He never painted his Nocturnes on the spot. The painting was later included in ‘the Graham sale’ at Christie’s in 1886. When it came up for auction it was hissed by the public, a reception Whistler described in a letter to The Observer newspaper as “flattering”.

In an 1877 review of another in the series, Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, the eminent critic John Ruskin wrote: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Which led Whistler to sue Ruskin successfully for libel in 1878 and, although he had claimed £1,000 plus costs, Whistler was awarded a farthing. Bankrupted by the court costs, Whistler sold his lavish house in London and went to Venice to work. Read more about the case here.

When The Falling Rocket appeared at the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition in 1877, along with Battersea Bridge, Oscar Wilde remarked that they were ‘worth looking at for about as long as one looks at a real rocket, that is, for somewhat less than a quarter of a minute’. James Abbott McNeill Whistler lived from 1834 to 1903.

Bamboo Yards, Kyōbashi Bridge by Utagawa Hiroshige (1857), woodblock print. Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Art

the full moon
I love a night
that simple

Michael McClintock
from Another Trip Around the Sun (2019)

It’s thought that the tall pillars shown on this bridge inspired Whistler’s rather dramatic-looking bridge, while similarities may also be seen between the boatmen and the limited colour palette. The website of the Brooklyn Museum, which has the same print, notes that the figure with the white hat (about centre) carrying a red lantern is a delightful nod of friendship, for on the lantern is the signature of Yokogawa Hori-take, one of the best known woodblock carvers of the day, and who worked with Hiroshige many times. On the left of the print are towering stockpiles of bamboo. Hiroshige’s own home was only a few blocks further on. Hiroshige lived from 1797-1858.

Kyōbashi was the first bridge on the Tokaido Road, south of the Nihonbashi Bridge, in Tokyo with which it shared the jewel-shaped metal rail ornaments known as ‘giboshi’. The bridges leading into the gates of Edo Castle were the only others allowed these ornaments. The ornaments on the Kyōbashi were preserved when the bridge was destroyed in 1965, and are today on front of a nearby police station. 

Earlier one thing + another thing posts covered Van Gogh and M C Escher.


Looking back and further back

If you’re out and about this summer in New Zealand, you may have time to visit some of the country’s art galleries, large and small. It’s a pastime I enjoy as you never know what you might come across.

Auckland Art Gallery’s major exhibition ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico‘ is drawing the crowds until January 22, but around the corner is a series of quieter galleries where the work is just as interesting. ‘Robin White: Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here‘ is a retrospective of this contemporary artist’s work that’s open until the end of January.

The galleries progress us through the work of Dame Robin White from the Bay of Plenty to Dunedin to Kiribati and back to New Zealand.

Summer Grass by painter Robin White and calligrapher Keiko Iimuri is on 12 rolls of wallpaper. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hanging in a gallery on its own is the large, multi-panelled Summer Grass, made in 2001 with Japanese artist Keiko Iimura and usually at Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History. In 2021 the work formed part of ‘Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging‘, an exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, celebrating the work of 16 female artists aged 70 or older.

Summer Grass is a response to an incident in a POW camp in Featherston in Wairarapa during World War 2. The information below the image is extracted from A History of Haiku in New Zealand.

Detail from Summer Grass, depicting the midsummer Wairarapa countryside at the memorial garden. The calligraphy renders Isaiah 40:31, which had significance for a prisoner. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Japanese Memorial Garden, Featherston
Also known as the Peace Garden, this garden commemorates the Japanese dead from the so-called Featherston Incident of February 25, 1943 when Japanese POWs staged a sit-down strike at their camp – after a Japanese officer was wounded the unarmed POWs rioted and camp guards fired without being ordered to do so.

Sixty-eight Japanese died and 54 were injured. One New Zealand soldier was killed by ricochet and six were wounded.

The camp at Tauherenikau, 2km east of Featherston had been the largest military training camp in New Zealand in World War 1. In 1942, at the request of the United States military, it was re-established as an internment camp for Japanese soldiers captured in the Pacific, mainly Guadalcanal.

Although a discussion about a “peace garden” at the site began in the 1970s, the Featherston Returned Services Association (RSA) always opposed the idea. In 1995 Nakamato Toshio, head of Masterton’s Juken Nissho timber mill, offered to finance a peace garden at the site but it still ran into local opposition. However, by 2000 the local council was supporting the plan and the garden opened in 2001.

Featuring 68 ornamental cherry trees in two rows, it also contains a plaque with this haiku by Matuso Basho (donated by K.J. Nysse of the Batavian Rubber Company in 1979, the translator is uncredited):

behold the summer grass
all that remains of the
dreams of warriors

* * *

To my mind, not a terribly good version of this famous haiku, which has been rendered in numerous ways over the years. For those who read Japanese, I have seen the original, written in 1689 about battlefield events of 1189 and their aftermath, quoted as:
Natsukusa ya/ tsuwamonodomo ga/ yume no ato

Detail from Summer Grass. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Summer grasses –
All that remains
Of soldiers’ visions

tr Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite
from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse (1964)

A mound of summer grass:
Are warriors’ heroic deeds
Only dreams that pass?

tr Dorothy Britton
from A Haiku Journey, Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province (1974)

The summer grasses
of brave soldiers’ dreams –
The aftermath.

tr Donald Keene
from The Narrow Road to Oku (1996)

Waves of summer grass:
All that remains of soldiers’
Impossible dreams.

tr David Bowles (2013)
from his website

summer grass
the only remains of soldiers’

tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho, The Complete Haiku (2013)

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

tr Sam Hamill
from the pocket haiku (2014)

Perhaps you’ll find one among these that sits comfortably with you, or go hunting for another. This selection also serves to highlight the multitude of decisions to be made when rendering Japanese into English! My preferred version is quite simple:

summer grasses –
all that remains
of warrior’s dreams

Sad to say, I’ve never been able to find the name of the translator for this version. You can read more here about some of the various renditions and the choices the translators have made.