Japanese (12th century) - The Scroll of Hungry Ghosts
One of the earliest art-scroll paintings, The Scroll of Hungry Ghosts is a gory depiction of hordes of gakki (hungry ghosts) with distended bellies devouring corpses and other unpalatable items in an effort to appease their ravenous appetites. (JL)
Japanese (13th century) - Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace, The Removal of the Imperial Family to Rokuhara, (both from the Illustrated Scrolls of the Events of the Heiji Era)
Few paintings capture the confusion and terror of battle as skillfully as the illustrations relating to the burning of the Sanjo Palace in the Heiji Rebellion. Highly animated and lavishly styled, they are considered the finest examples of Yamato-style painting. (JL)
Japanese (16th century) - The Machida Screens
The Machida screens are thought to be the oldest surviving paintings of daily life in Kyoto, and are considered unique because they represent every strata of society. They also mark the rise of genre painting, from which the famous painting style ukiyo-e (floating world) emerges. (JL)
Japanese (c1614) - Arrival of Portuguese Ships at Nagasaki with a Visit Ashore
The first European merchants to Japan were the Portuguese in the 1540s, and together with raw silk they brought Jesuit monks who set about converting the Japanese. This bright and varied painting commemorates these foreign interlopers and their mercantile empire. (JL)
Jocho - Amida Nyorai (1053)
One of the most influential artists of the Heian period, Jocho developed a technique of sculpting a figure out of many different pieces of wood. Amida Nyorai is the only surviving example of his work, and was revered because the Buddha's eyes are directed down at the worshipper, establishing a direct psychological relationship between the two. (JL)
Gwen John - Corner of An Artist's Room (1907-1909)
John's room, humbly furnished and atmospherically restrained, is an exquisite reflection of sensitivity and integrity. A wicker chair, a propped-up parasol, a jar of wild flowers and the slanting radiance of a Paris afternoon - what more could one wish for? (RC)
Jasper Johns - Flag (1954-1955), White Flag (1955), Target with Four Faces (1955), Grey Alphabets (1956), White Numbers (1958), Figure 5 (1960), Map (1961), Diver (1963)
A dark numeral is painted on a tall grey canvas. Just that: the figure 5, in grey on grey. The texture of the paint is matted, broken, rich. But still, it is what anyone would call reticent. When I came across this painting by Jasper Johns in the Pompidou Centre a few years ago I felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach, the power of it was so colossal. It was the same with his White Flag in New York's Metropolitan Museum, a replica of the American flag built over a layer of collage in encaustic, a wax-based painting medium that enabled him to create a stilled, congealed painting more like a thing than a picture. It is this object-like quality that gives Johns's paintings their exceptional power.
For centuries, there was a fixed convention in the western world of what a painting was; it was a picture, within which you saw a painted world, separated from its surroundings by a frame. This was demolished in the early 20th century by Picasso and Braque, who collaged bits of newspaper and even plastic chair caning to their paintings to establish once and for all their physical reality and existence in a world of things.
One development from this revolution, in America, was Jackson Pollock's way of painting; the skein of his thrown fluids remains external to the surface it fell on, like a web in space. Johns, painting in the wake of Pollock's gesture, found a way to paint that without returning to the enclosed world of the picture rediscovers representation - but the representation is now in the overall structure of the painting, which becomes a kind of sculpture. The Flag in the Museum of Modern Art takes this sculpted density to a tremendous pitch of momentousness, with each bit of collage, each layer of colour seeming to have taken forever.
Johns's paintings, his objects, are in no sense casual, throwaway remarks. They are more like brief but intensely meditated haikus. His themes - alphabets, targets, maps, lightbulbs - are universal, but by representing them with such thought and slowness he makes them his own. He discovers epics within everyday things, and yet the stories he tells don't unravel at all, don't begin or end. What communicates itself is the depth and texture of experience, all experience. Jasper Johns is the greatest artist alive. (JJ)
Allen Jones - Chair, Table and Hat Stand (1969)
These three slightly larger than life-size casts of women as furniture have undeniable sado-masochist overtones. Allen Jones created these sexually provocative sculptures in the wake of the Profumo scandal, in response to the hypocrisies of the 1960s. (JL)
Donald Judd - 15 untitled works in concrete (1980-1984), 100 works in mill aluminium (1982-1986)
There is nothing spartan about minimalist art as practised by Judd, whose stackings and spacings, rich in light, can be seen at their best on the former Texas military base he converted into a permanent place for his work. (JJ)