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Given the relative dearth of fan-painting exhibitions, it seems a relatively minor art commensurate with its small-scale format. In reality, it was the most abundantly produced kind of painting in Japan for many centuries, giving birth, or at least standing as precursor, to the large-scale golden screen painting genre, Rakuchu Rakugai-zu (Famous Scenes in and out of the Capital, Kyoto), that fascinated the shogunate and nobility from the 16th century. As the exhibition “Fan Paintings from the Konoike Collection at the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art” makes clear, practically all major painters by the late Edo Period (1603-1868) were engaged in painting fans.

By the 7th century, the ogi (folding fan) had been invented in Japan, and by the 10th century they were so popular that laws were introduced to restrict their extravagant decoration. Part of the reason for such popularity was their portability and also their confluence with other Japanese art forms. Fans were miniature folding screens that could be produced from a sleeve and splayed to reveal a moment from a larger narrative. Also, like hanging scrolls, displayed in the alcove, they were accessories with an appropriate painted seasonal reference.

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