April 18, 2022/ 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Dodd Hall 247

Drawing Flies: Insect Pictures, Hokusai, and the Book of Everything in Edo Japan

For most of East Asian painting history until the twentieth century, the choice of painting subjects was governed by convention. The production of auspicious images suffused with positive resonances was one of the painter’s most fundamental roles. What did it mean, then, when an unknown Edo-period painter depicted the lugubrious scene of a pair of horseflies buzzing above a misty dark green swamp? This painting heralds the expansion of acceptable painting subjects in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Japan, an expansion that culminates, logically speaking, in the impulse to paint literally anything and everything. As it turns out, this impulse is frequently ascribed to Hokusai (1760-1849). The recent discovery of Hokusai’s 103 drawings for a never-published woodblock-printed book, The Great Picture Book of Everything (Banmotsu ehon daizenzu) again raises the questions: how, why, when, and to what extent did Edo painters circumvent inherited conventions in order to paint “everything,” no matter how lowly? The answer draws on natural history, economics, and literary trends.


About the Speaker

Chelsea Foxwell is Associate Professor of Art History, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College at the University of Chicago. She received her PhD in 2008 from Columbia University and her BA from Harvard University. She is the author of Making Modern Japanese Painting: Kano Hōgai and the Search for Images (2015) and co-author and co-curator (with Anne Leonard) of Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints (Smart Museum of Art, 2012). Foxwell has recently co-edited (with Wu Hung) a volume of essays on East Asian photography and is currently at work on a book that examines the origins of modern Japanese art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is the recipient of grants from the Japanese Ministry of Education, the Japan Foundation, Getty Research Institute, Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Institute for International Education (Fulbright Scholar).


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