HARRY HUMPHREY MOORE (1844–1926)
Japanese Tea Garden, 1881
Oil on wood panel, 6 3/8 x 10 7/8 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): H. Humphrey Moore 81
EX COLL.: the artist, until 1926; to his wife, Maria Moore, 1926; to private collection, Connecticut, about 1950, until the present
During his sojourn in Japan, Moore spent time in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Nikko, and Osaka, carefully observing the local citizenry, their manners and mode of dress, and the country’s distinctive architecture. Working on easily portable wood panels, he created about sixty scenes of daily life, among them this picturesque vignette of a Japanese tea garden. Indeed, the Japanese had been consuming green tea, for both medicinal and mental purposes, since the twelfth century. In addition to drinking this popular beverage in private tea rooms incorporated into larger buildings (often in conjunction with a traditional formal ceremony), tea was also consumed in tea houses, free-standing, roof-covered structures (often situated in a park or a related garden setting) that––in keeping with Japan’s humid climate and the cultural desire to achieve harmony with nature––were constructed of wood. Minimalist and rustic in their design, tea houses provided visitors with a refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life, a place where they could relax and enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation. With the exception of lanterns and potted plants, distracting décor and garish hues were always avoided.
In Japanese Tea Garden, our gaze moves from the circular water basin in the lower left across a broad expanse of empty foreground before coming to rest on the tea house, where a solitary server awaits the next customer. Consistent with his Japanese subjects, lauded for their “strong and vivid color,” Moore adheres to a varied palette wherein cool blues and green merge and mingle with an array of earth tones augmented by deftly applied touches of orange and black. His spirited brushwork (which reflects the impact of Fortuny) works with his tightly cropped design to imbue the image with a vital feeling of spontaneity. At the same time, Moore’s careful observation of his immediate environment is very much in evidence: adhering to a realistic portrayal of his subject, he accurately captures the unique characteristics of the tea house, especially its gently sloping rooftop and sliding windows made of wooden latticework covered with translucent Japanese paper.