KAKU (Core) and KONKAN (Root) in Japanese art history

In the lineage of antiquity, medieval, early modern, and modern periods, Japanese painting and calligraphy have evolved, driven by development specific to each era's demand aligned with prevailing values.
Unlike continental cultures, Japan's island culture embodies an internal aspect characterized by unique "aesthetic sensibility" and "emotional expression."
Through the field of painting and calligraphy, which should represent the most significant "core" and "root" in the history of Japanese art, one can feel and rediscover the establishment involving religion, culture, demand, and reflection.

Second period: Development of early modern painting

After the medieval period, painting underwent a significant transformation.
Rather than changing instantly, it shifted variously in response to the trends of each era.
While some works and artists shone brightly, others conveyed a sense of loneliness or tranquility, revealing the inner world of these painters.
It's common to see portrayals that deviate from general impressions.
I hope you can appreciate the difference between captivating and entrancing paintings within the development of early modern art.
Message to Mr. Tanihara on October 18th
Maruyama Ōkyo (Mondo)
Ink and color on paper
Private collection
45.0 x 98.0 cm

Maruyama Ōkyo was a central figure in the Kyoto art scene during the mid to late Edo period, and he is considered the founder of the Maruyama school, holding a significant position in the history of Japanese painting. This work is a letter written by Ōkyo to a person named Mr. Tanihara.
The beginning of the text states "Kouen" (oral message), indicating that the text is a spoken message.
This is a valuable document as it uses the name "Mondo" (his early artist name before changing to Ōkyo in 1766) used by Ōkyo when he was studying under the Nanga painter Ishida Yūtei around 1749 (around the age of 17), and the way the chrysanthemum flowers are painted suggests the influence of the Kano school, indicating that this is a work from his younger years when he was learning from the Kano school.
Portrait of the Elderly Haiga Poet at Age 69
Hanabusa Ichō
Ink and color on paper
Private collection
54.8 x 116.0 cm

Hanabusa Ichō, known by the pseudonym Gyō-un, was closely associated with Haikai poetry and had friendships with poets such as Takarai Kikaku and Matsuo Bashō. He was a talented disciple of Kano Yasunobu in both painting and Haikai, but was expelled within two years. Various reasons have been speculated for his expulsion, including his unconventional personality, preference for satirical and humorous expressions, and violations of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi's edicts on the treatment of animals. Records indicate that he was imprisoned twice; he was released after a few months the first time, but the second time he was sentenced to exile on Izu Miyake Island at the age of 47. After the death of Tsunayoshi, he was granted amnesty and returned to Edo at the age of 58, having been away for 11 years. He lived for another 15 years until the age of 73. By the time he returned to Edo, his close friends Bashō and Kikaku had already passed away. This artwork, created about four years before his death, commemorates the playful times he shared with these friends in his youth. Despite his wild and unconventional life, the painting evokes a sense of nostalgia for his old companions.
Longevity Star and Tortoise Design
Painted by Soga Shōhaku
Praised by Kamono Suetaka
Ink and color on paper
Private collection
60.5 x 185.0 cm

Like Jakuchū, Soga Shōhaku is an indispensable figure in the history of Edo painting. Known as a "fantastic painter," along with Jakuchū, Rosetsu, and Ōkyo, Shōhaku is perhaps the most fitting embodiment of the term "eccentric artist." Despite depicting a traditional theme of the Longevity Star and tortoise, Shōhaku skillfully completes his own peculiar and fantastic artistic world with masterful brushwork. It is said, "If you want a painting, come to me; if you want an illustration, Mondo (Ōkyo) would be better." This remark suggests Shōhaku's suitability for the description of a mad genius, and Ōkyo, who has been cited, was good at painting which was the complete opposite of Shohaku.
Plum Blossom
Itō Jakuchū
Ink on paper
Private collection
37.2 x 111.0 cm

The seal reads "Painted by Beito-Ō at the age of eighty."
In recent years, the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection has brought Edo paintings into the spotlight, one of the first names mentioned is the painter Itō Jakuchū.
Jakuchū is known for his intricate paintings that are said to be impossible to reproduce, and he has also left behind numerous masterpieces in ink painting. As indicated by the seal with the inscription "Koji" (layman devoted to Buddhism), Jakuchū was born as the eldest son of a vegetable dealer but handed over the family business to his younger brother. He then became a Buddhist layman, devoting himself to Zen and continuing to paint.
Jakuchū encountered the tea merchant and culture promoter "Baisa-Ō" and had deep connections with "Ōbaku" priests. His encounter with Baisa-Ō was a turning point, leading to a change in his artistic style.
While this ink painting may appear simple at first glance, it exhibits Jakuchū's distinctive rapid brushwork, skillfully using dense and light ink. Although Jakuchū is best known for his depictions of various animals and plants, such as chickens, his plum blossom paintings like this one are highly esteemed, with examples from his later years held at the Kyoto Tenshin-in and receiving great acclaim.
Araumi ya Sado ni yokotau Amanogawa
(The rough seas and the milky way over Sado island)
Matsuo Bashō
Ink and color on paper
Private collection
57.6 x 122.0 cm

Passed down in the Kubota Ensui family, as noted by Chōmu.
This Haiku by Matsuo Bashō, featured in "The Complete Collection of Bashō's Works," represents his famous travelogue "Oku no hoso michi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North)". This artwork is an extremely valuable piece as it differs in part from the two works featured in the "Complete Collection," presenting new material. It comes from the Kubota Ensui family, highly trusted by Bashō as one of the oldest members of the Iga Shōmon group. The inscription was done by Chōmu, a Jōdo-Shu sect priest and poet, who was a lifelong advocate for Bashō's legacy and made significant contributions. This piece, with the valuable annotation added by Chōmu himself to the drawing passed down in the Kubota family, is a precious work.
View of Kannon on a Rocky Outcrop
Takahashi Sōhei
Ink and color on paper
Private collection
42.2 x 173.0 cm

Takahashi Sōhei was a disciple of Tanomura Chikuden and passed away at the young age of 32.
Chikuden himself highly valued Sōhei's artistic talent and works, acknowledging Sōhei's exceptional abilities that surpassed his own in producing outstanding pieces.
After entering Chikuden's studio, Sōhei accompanied his master on tours, spending his later years in Kyoto and Osaka Tennoji, where he passed away. While the Seikadō Library possesses "Chen-Xi-San-Kannon painting album", there are very few other existing works by Sōhei.
This artwork exhibits a characteristic composition unique to Sōhei, leaving the upper two-thirds as blank space and deliberately concentrating the depiction of Kannon on a rocky outcrop in the lower part. The inscription is presumed to be by Maeda Bunsindō.
(Portrait of Kiku flowers and a child)

Katayama Yōkoku
Ink and color on silk
Private collection
49.4 x 180.0 cm

Katayama Yōkoku was a renowned painter associated with the present-day Tottori Prefecture's Inaba painting style.
Influenced by the Nagasaki school during the mid-Edo period, Yōkoku's works are characterized by meticulous brushwork and dense compositions inherited from the Nagasaki school. This painting, depicting a Kiku-Doushi, bears the seal "Dōseiga." Until recently, it was believed that the artist using the name "Dōseiga" was not Yōkoku; however, due to many similarities, it is now recognized as a work by Katayama Yōkoku. Yōkoku's depictions of Kiku-Doushi are either in triptych form or as single panels, with this artwork being the latter. In triptychs, the child is typically centered with elaborate chrysanthemums on either side, whereas in single-panel compositions like this one, chrysanthemums are intricately integrated into a single scene. This portrait of Kiku-Doushi is both a newly discovered piece and intentionally exhibited in its original preserved condition at the time of acquisition.
Grapes in Ink Painting Style from the Joseon Dynasty
Unknown Artist
17th Century
Ink on paper
Private collection
40.2 x 150.0 cm

A masterpiece of Joseon Dynasty painting from the 17th century.
Grape paintings have long been a popular subject in Japanese art, originating from China's Joseon Dynasty and frequently depicted in Japanese paintings. Among numerous grape paintings, this piece stands out as exceptional.
While Jakuchū's grape paintings in the Price Collection are well-known in Edo painting, this artwork is equally impressive. The artist skillfully renders the overlapping swollen grapes and the boundaries of vines and leaves entwining around the branches with meticulous detail in blurred ink. The heavy, ripe grapes hang down to the ground, surrounded by chestnut mice greedily devouring the fruit overwhelming scene of abundance.
Due to extensive repairs, numerous paper patches called "Kasugai" have been applied to the back of the paper, and the ink itself has become diluted from repeated washings. However, the softened ink gradients enhance the subtlety and condensed beauty of this artwork, accentuating its intricate details.
Painting of a Big Tiger
Kumashiro Yuuhi
Ink on paper
Private collection
94.2 x 197.5 cm

Kumashiro Yuuhi was a representative artist of the Nagasaki school during the mid-Edo period, using the Chinese name "Yuuhi" and being the only Japanese disciple of Shin Nanpin. He produced a variety of works ranging from the meticulous style typical of the Nagasaki school to styles resembling Nan-Shuu-Ga (Southern school) paintings. This painting exhibits qualities reminiscent of his master Shin Nanpin's works, particularly in the softness of the palm, the detailed depiction of fur, and the rendering of swaying stripes. The expression of the tiger, with its raised arm, wide-open mouth, and intense gaze, combined with the grand scale of the artwork, creates an overwhelming impact on the viewer.
Orchid, Bamboo, and Crab with Rock, Diptych
Dates of birth and death unknown
Ink on paper
Private collection
44.5 x 185.0 cm

Kou-Kaho was a late Qing dynasty painter and calligrapher. While believed to have been born in Zhejiang Province, China, his exact dates of birth and death remain unknown. It is known that he arrived in Nagasaki in the first year of the Bunka era (1804) and made several subsequent visits, becoming one of the "Four great foreign artists" along with "I Fu-Kyuu", "Hi Kan-Gen", and "Chou Shou-Koku". He made significant contributions to the development of literati painting in Japan, forging close relationships with prominent literati painters of the time such as "Oota Nanpo" and "Tanomura Chikuden", and influencing the techniques of artists like "Kinoshita Itsuun" and "Sugai Baikan".
This diptych likely depicts an auspicious scene with orchids, bamboo, rocks, and a crab. Orchids, bamboo, and crabs have traditionally been considered symbols of good luck in Chinese culture. Crabs are associated with academic achievement and can also serve as spiritual guardians of celebration. The dynamic brushwork executed solely in ink by this Chinese painter conveys a sense of speed and elegance that is distinctively different from the expression of Japanese literati painters, embodying a unique and carefree style.
Lone Monk with Bamboo, Diptych
Unkoku Toueki
Ink and color on paper
Private collection
62.5 x 209.0 cm

Unkoku Toueki was born as the second son of Unkoku Tōgan in present-day Hiroshima during the early Edo period. Later, he adopted the name "Unkoku-Sesshuu-4th generation" and established the Unkoku school, making significant contributions to the development of its distinctive painting style and organizational structure, which became one of the major schools alongside the Kano school.
This diptych is likely part of a byobu (folding screen) given its composition. Using variations in ink intensity, Toueki masterfully depicts the contours of clothing, figures, and perspective, skillfully manipulating shades of ink in the delicate bamboo to create a sense of depth and distance.
Although the Unkoku school, which once flourished as a major artistic movement, was later confined to remote areas in western Honshu and Kyushu due to the increasing dominance of the Kano school, its current recognition and visibility are not as high. Nevertheless, by incorporating works by Unkoku Toueki and "Hosetsu Toozen" into this exhibition, there is a renewed opportunity to reevaluate and appreciate the Unkoku school's significance, inviting a fresh focus on this esteemed artistic tradition.
Scene of a Woman Selling Sweetfish in Katsura
Iwasa Matabē or his workshop
Color on paper
Private collection
45.7 x 51.0 cm

Iwasa Matabē was born in Settsu Province as the son of Araki Murashige, a retainer of Oda Nobunaga, and he flourished as a painter during the early Edo period. He incorporated styles from the Kaihou school, Hasegawa school, and Unkoku school into his works. This painting, known as "Scene of a Woman Selling Sweetfish in Katsura," depicts a woman who lived in the Katsura area and sold sweetfish and candy. The facial features characterized by plump cheeks and elongated chin, along with the decorative expressions of clothing, legs, body posture, and the delicate depiction of sparse trees, resemble similar elements found in other works attributed to Matabē, such as the "Jakkō-in" painting and the 14th segment of the "Ise Monogatari" known as "Kutakake." The paper material used also aligns with the distinctive characteristics of Matabē's contemporaries, making the attribution to Iwasa Matabē or his workshop highly plausible.
Pair of Birds with Flowing Water on a Folding Screen
Artist Unknown
Early Edo Period
Gold leaf paper
Private Collection
129.0 x 110.0 cm

Based on the appearance of the gold leaf and other characteristics, the production period is estimated to be around the early Edo period. In the center of the screen, two small birds hover over a flowing stream, with a prominently colored rocky formation placed to the left to create a sense of depth. Within the stream, vividly painted rocks are positioned, and the two hovering birds in the distance are subtly depicted, utilizing the structural characteristics of the folding screen to enhance spatial representation by intentionally portraying them with lighter shades to suggest foreground folding.
Fan-faced painting of sweetfish
Attributed to Tosa Mitsunari
Ink on paper
Private collection
59.8 x 115.0 cm

Tosa Mitsunari is renowned as a master among the successive Tosa school painters. Prior to his prominence, Tosa school painters were appointed as court painters, but during the Momoyama period, they declined due to the rise of the Kano school. Mitsunari's father, Tosa Mitsuoki, played a pivotal role in revitalizing the Tosa school, introducing new elements to traditional Yamato-e painting and successfully incorporating techniques from Chinese painting and the Kano school.
This artwork showcases characteristics reminiscent of the Kano school and Chinese painting, such as sharp rock formations depicted in deep navy pigments and the portrayal of sweetfish. The use of gold leaf for atmospheric effects, combined with the elegant and vibrant style unique to the revitalized Tosa school, highlights refined color expressions.
Interestingly, upon encountering this artwork in Kyoto, the first thing that came to my mind was a screen painting from the early Edo period by an unknown artist and school, depicting a trellis. Like the fan-faced painting of sweetfish, that screen painting also exudes a graceful and colorful charm while embodying a distinctive Japanese aesthetic.