Masterpiece in Focus: The Night Festival of Tsushima Shrine Screen and its Restoration

Pavilion for Japanese Art, Level 3
December 3, 2011–April 1, 2012

The Night Festival of Tsushima Shrine screen, nearly six by sixteen feet, depicts the summer festival of Tsushima Shrine, an ancient Shinto shrine near Nagoya in central Japan. Festivals like the one depicted are held to propitiate kami (Shinto deities); this particular night festival is dedicated to Gozu Tennō, who has the power to prevent summer plagues. The Tsushima festival, dating to at least the fourteenth century, is still celebrated in a form remarkably similar to that shown in this screen. Five large floats, each festooned with 365 lanterns (for the days of the year), are launched on the river adjacent to the shrine.

This painting is a time capsule of early 17th-century Japanese activities. The gentry sit in enclosures at the upper right, while all social classes mingle near the entertainment: kabuki, puppet plays, dancing and juggling. Samurai can be seen on the bridge; vendors prepare and sell food; and Shinto priests and Buddhist monks stroll through the crowds.

This is the finest and the oldest of the Tsushima Festival screens known to survive. Thanks to generous funding by the Friends of Heritage Preservation, founded in 1998 by Suzanne Deal Booth and her husband David G. Booth, this screen was conserved and restored at the Bokusendo Painting Conservation Studio in Kyoto, founded by Hisaji Sekichi. This one-year conservation project is described in detail as part of this exhibition.

This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Image: Night Festival of Tsushima Shrine (Detail), Japan, early Edo period, Kan’ei era, 1624–44, Ink, color, gold, and silver and gold leaf on paper, Gift of Camilla Chandler Frost, David and Margaret Barry, Lenore and Richard Wayne, Leslie Prince Salzman, Friends of Heritage Preservation, Gwen and Peter Norton, and the East Asian Art Council, in honor of Robert T. Singer, M.2007.190.