Individually scheduled press tours for “Meeting Tessai: Modern Japanese Art from the Cowles Collection”
[Open to the public] Aug. 13–Feb. 18, 2024
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art
1050 Independence Ave. S.W.
Frank Feltens, The Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art

Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924) exemplifies the modern Japanese painter. Contemporaries praised his avant-garde works, yet Tessai created his nonconformist paintings in a traditional way, basing them on ancient Japanese art and Ming and Qing paintings imported from China. Tessai’s teacher Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791–1875)—nun, potter, calligrapher, poet, political activist—was at the vortex of immense political changes in Japan as the country’s feudal system collapsed and a constitutional monarchy was established. Rengetsu’s art, which harks back to inspirations from the 12th century, inspired a generation of modern artists like Tessai.

“Meeting Tessai” highlights a transformative gift of early modern and modern Japanese paintings and calligraphy from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection. It is also the first major American exhibition in five decades to explore the significance of pan–East Asian influences—a pertinent topic in today’s interconnected world—through the work of Tessai, Rengetsu, and modern Japanese painting.

“Tessai was truly original and his works are stunning. They put the Freer Gallery of Art’s Japan galleries in anew light.” — Frank Feltens, The Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art

Note to editors: Members of the media can contact Jennifer Mitchell at for more information, or to schedule a time to speak with the curator and tour the exhibition.