The Life of Animals in Japanese Art, Exhibition Catalog

About the Author

Robert T. Singer is curator and head of the Department of Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His books include Polished to Perfection: Japanese Cloisonné from the Collection of Donald K. Gerber and Sueann E. Sherry and Edo: Art in Japan 1615–1868. Kawai Masatomo is director of the Chiba City Museum of Art, Japan, and honorary professor at Keio University, Tokyo. His books include Masterpieces from the Sanso Collection: Japanese Paintings Collected by Peter F. and Doris Drucker (in Japanese).

The Life of Animals in Japanese Art, Exhibition Catalog

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Edited by Robert T. Singer and Kawai Masatomo with contributions by Barbara R. Ambros, Tom Hare, Federico Marcon, et al.

Accompanying the National Gallery of Art exhibition The Life of Animals in Japanese Art, this catalog offers a sweeping exploration of animals in Japanese art and culture across sixteen centuries.


Few countries have devoted as much artistic energy to the depiction of animal life as Japan. Drawing upon the country’s unique spiritual heritage, rich literary traditions, and currents in popular culture, Japanese artists have long expressed admiration for animals in sculpture, painting, lacquerwork, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and woodblock prints. This beautiful book celebrates a diverse range of work, from ancient fifth-century funerary sculpture to contemporary pieces.


The nearly 300 works in this volume present animals in a variety of guises, from messengers of the divine and symbols of power or good fortune, to comical or satirical actors, and manifestations of the beauty of the natural world. Real and fantastic creatures are meticulously rendered, often with humor and whimsy, by artists ranging from Itō Jakuchū and Utagawa Kuniyoshi to Kusama Yayoi and Nara Yoshitomo.


Contributions by an international team of Japanese art experts show how these artists employed creatures to teach virtuous behavior, mock customs, exemplify bravery, and celebrate life. Also featured are essays by leading scholars of  Japanese literature, religion, and scientific inquiry. Richly illustrated, this volume reveals connections between the natural world and visual and creative expression.

  • Available in hardcover and softcover
  • 9 x 12 inches
  • 343 pages, 475 color illustrations
  • Published: 2019

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