Flowers of autumn

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  • Catalogue text

    This pair of hanging scrolls [EA1966.115 and EA1966.116] shows a side of Baiitsu not seen in the previous entry. Flowers of Summer and Autumn is done in Baiitsu’s highly complex, decorative style. On the right [EA1966.115] is an arrangement of flowers of summer including irises, dandelions, lilies, a rose, lotuses and peonies. On the left [EA1966.116] are many autumn and winter flowers such as pampas grass, monkshood, bush clover, narcissus, hibiscus, chrysanthemums, pinks and morning glories. [ A hanging scroll in the Kyoto National Museum bears the closest resemblance to the Ashmolean's compositions. The santanka (madder), tiger lilies and roses of the right-hand composition, and the narcissus and chrysanthemums of the left are here fused into one image. The rendering of the tallest branch of santanka in the two works is particularly close. The Kyoto National Museum painting is published in Kokka 737, 23, plate 7]. Such a combination of plants, sometimes more than one variety of each flower, is done for obvious decorative effect and would never be found in nature. Baiitsu renders some of the forms in the mokkotsu or boneless method of painting without outlines, while other elements have a thick outline done in grey ink, especially many of the blossoms. The leaves in particular reveal Baiitsu’s signature style of painting them twisting in space before coming to a point at the end. Yoshida Toshihide notes that Baiitsu's bird and flower compositions have the strength of line of the Kano school, the mokkotsu technique of the Shijō school, and the tarashikomi of the Rimpa school, seen here slightly in the brownish leaves of the composition on the left [EA1966.116]. [Yoshida, 22]. He combines traditional flowers that have been painted for centuries with more recent additions to the Japanese artists’ painted garden. The rose, a relatively new subject in Japanese painting, seems to have entered Japan through Nagasaki where painters practised Chinese and Western-style painting. It was a subject particularly favoured by Baiitsu. [ Other early examples of paintings with roses in Japan include Jakuchū’s Roses and Small Bird, one of a set of ten hanging scrolls. Sō Shiseki’s Red Roses and Small Bird and Yellow Rose and Birds, and Shiba Kōkan’s Rose and Cactus, published in Tokyo National Museum, Hana: tokubetsuten, (Tokyo: Tokyo National Museum, 1995), 314-319, 323. Roses take centre stage in Baiitsu’s Roses in a Shower of 1821 in the Kyoto National Museum, reproduced in Kokka 728 (November 1952), plates 1-2].

    Although decorative and no doubt done for a sale or by commission, Flowers of Summer and Autumn does retain elements of Baiitsu’s more personal Chinese-inspired influences. The chrysanthemums and lilies in particular strongly resemble those in the previous entry, which Baiitsu was familiar with through printed manuals such as The Mustard Seed Garden Manual and from copying many actual Chinese paintings. The Ming painter Chen Shun’s (1483-1544) works could have provided inspiration for Baiitsu's decorative manner, as they are very similar in composition as well as colouring. [ For example, see Chen Shun’s Summer Garden (c. 1530) in Richard M. Barnhart, Peach Blossom Spring: Gardens and Flowers in Chinese Paintings (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983), 70.]

    In addition, the previous album and this pair of hanging scrolls are alike in their inventive use of colour. In both, Baiitsu uses mostly vegetable pigments. These colours can be quite vibrant as in the case of the turquoise blue of the morning glories and the periwinkle blue of the irises. The result is a dazzling image made up of a wide-ranging palette of fresh colours.

    In his early fifties, Baiitsu became known as a painter of birds and flowers and produced many similar works for sale or on commission, all of which are complex multi-coloured decorative images. This large-scale production continued until the artist was around seventy years old [ Yoshida, 20-22.]. Baiitsu’s flower and bird compositions are mostly hanging scrolls, though a few screens date to his latter years from 1840 on. [ Baiitsu's screens of flowers include Flowers and Birds of Spring and Autumn, in the Kyoto National Museum and Birds and Flowers in the Idemitsu Museum of Art. See Yoshizawa Chū, ‘Yamamoto Baiitsu hitsu shunshū kachōzu byōbu’, Kokka 885 (December 1965), plates 6-7, page 27 and Yoshizawa Chū, Nanga sansui, Nihon byōbu-e shūsei 3 (Tokyo Kōronsha, 1979), plates 104.5, pages 112-113]. It is unclear whether the Ashmolean’s pair of hanging scrolls were ever part of a screen. If so, it was not a continuous composition across many panels but an oshi-e bari screen wherein each panel has a separate composition pasted onto it.

    These scrolls bear the date of 1839, when Baiitsu was living in Kyoto. At this time, he often accepted commissions for bird and flower paintings and would recommend his friend Chikutō instead for landscapes. The large seal reading Baiitsu is unrecorded, although recent discoveries are expanding the number of seals Baiitsu is known to have used throughout his career. It is, however, a larger version of a seal Baiitsu was known to have used at this time. The signature is a type used by the artist in his fifties and sixties, and while not unknown, is less common than his other signature forms. [This is the so-called ‘To’ form of Baiitsu’s signature, which Yoshida believes the artist used for a period after 1844. Yoshida, 23]. More debate will have to take place before these works can be fitted firmly into Baiitsu’s oeuvre.

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 6 on pp. 54-57, pp. 28 & 39, illus. pp. 55 & 57

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