Chrysanthemums

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  • Catalogue text

    On this fan, Hōchū has painted pom-pom-like bunches of chrysanthemums coloured lightly with a pink pigment. The flowers’ leaves are done with a mixture of malachite green and ink that was blended together on the paper while the paint was still wet. This technique, known as tarashikomi, was one of Hōchū’s great talents [for more on Hōchū's use of tarashikomi, see 'Nakamura Hōchū no tarashikomi', in Kobayashi Tadashi, Edo no gakatchi (Tokyo: Perikansha, 1990), 54-7]. Aside from tarashikomi, Hōchū was also adept at tamekomi, a technique whereby a dry brush absorbs wet pigment after it has been applied to the paper or silk. This small composition further stands as testament to Hōchū’s experimental painting techniques as it is a finger painting. It seems the outlines of the flowers’ petals were done with the artist’s fingernails and the pigment for the leaves and pink of the flowers was applied with his fingertips.

    A record of 1794 states that Hōchū was particularly well known for his finger paintings [this is in the Kyojitsu satonamari. See Tsuji Nobuo, ‘Nakamura Hōchū-ni tsuite', in Yamane Yūzō, ed., Rimpa kaiga zenshū, Kōrin II (Tokyo: Nihon keizai shinbunsha, 1977), 45]. Hōchū’s knowledge of this technique may have been due to his association with Nanga artists through the patron Kimura Kenkadō in Osaka. Finger painting probably entered Japan from China where its best-known proponent was Gao Qipei (d. 1734). Chinese artists in Japan must have schooled others in the method, as it is a technique that cannot be learned by looking at finished paintings [Joan Stanley-Baker identifies Shen Quan (1682-1760), whose work Prunus in Moonlight is in the Yabumoto collection, as a likely candidate who was in Nagasaki from 1731-3. See Joan Stanley-Baker, ‘Finger painting in Tokugawa Japan’, in Discarding the Brush, Gao Qipei (1660-1735) and the Art of Chinese Fingerpainting (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 1992), 74, 78. She also makes the interesting point that finger painting was not considered true literati painting in China, therefore its adoption by Japanese Nanga artists, who believed the heterodox spirit was alive and well in China, is ironic. Ibid., 72]. Ike Taiga [Taiga's finger paintings include Dragon and Tiger, a pair of hanging scrolls in a private collection. Water Landscape in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Five Hundred Lohans which are sliding doors in Manpukuji. Ibid., catalogue numbers 94, 97, and page 76], Tani Bunchō and Nagasawa Rōsetsu were all known to have produced finger paintings. Though one scholar wrote that he knew of signatures on Hōchū’s works stating that that they were finger paintings, none of those works have been published [Tsuji, 45]. The Ashmolean’s fan, therefore, is important visual evidence that backs up the references to Hōchū’s finger paintings in historical records.

    Nakamura Hōchū, who was born in Kyoto and lived most of his life in Osaka, is considered one of the premier artists of the Rimpa school. The English equivalent of the Japanese word ha or ‘school’, is used both to designate the primarily familial organisation of most painters as well as the Rimpa artists whose members can only be said to be based on blood ties in the short term. For its sustenance as a tradition through the centuries, the school owes more to the reverent attitudes of later artists to past masters, expressed most often in what have been called ‘homage pictures’ [Honolulu Academy of Arts, Exquisite Visions: Rimpa Paintings from Japan (Honolulu, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1980), 17]. The term Rimpa is a modern designation that only became fixed with the 1972 exhibit in the Tokyo National Museum. The character rin is the second of the artist Ogata Kōrin’s name, and it is Kōrin's style that had the most influence on Hōchū’s development as a painter. In this fan, Hōchū closely follows compositions by Kōrin, such as a fan painting of chrysanthemums in the Feinberg Collection, Washington, DC [this is published in Murashige, Rimpa, vol. 2, 179]. That Hōchū would have been very familiar with Kōrin’s works is demonstrated by the publication in 1802 of a printed book of his own compositions, based on Kōrin's designs, called the Kōrin gafu.

    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. 48 on pp. 168-169, p. 153, illus. p. 169

Hillier, J., The Harari Collection of Japanese Paintings and Drawings, copyright owned by Michael Harari, 3 vols (London: Lund Humphries, 1973), no. 302 on p. 535, illus. p. 537 fig. 302

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