Trees and rocks


  • Catalogue text

    As a native of Nagasaki, Itsuun had contact with the long-established community of Chinese painters in the area. Beginning with early arrivals such as Shen Nanpin, Chinese artists exerted a strong influence on the Japanese painters who studied with them. We know that Itsuun studied Shen Nanpin’s method of bird and flower painting with Ishizaki Yūshi (1768-1846), a painter in the Western and Chinese manners, and Jiang Jiapu (1744-after 1839) [landscape in the style of Huang Gongwang in Kokka 939 (1971)], a native of China who visited Japan often on business. In addition to his teachers, Itsuun followed the style of many artists by copying their paintings and making their methods his own. He reached such fame that he was known as one of the three great masters of Nagasaki (along with Hidaka Tetsuō and Miura Gomon). Painting was only one of Itsuun's many talents, however, which included Chinese and Japanese poetry, music and seal carving. He died tragically in a boat accident on his way back to Nagasaki from Edo. Of the copious number of paintings by him known to have existed, very few remain extant.

    Here Itsuun has painted rocks and brambles, where the foliage is done with short strokes and the rocks are articulated with longer, wavy lines. The lean of the rock at the left is mimicked by the central tree’s branches, both of which take one’s eye across to Itsuun’s signature.

    Trees and Rocks dates to Itsuun’s last years. The Ashmolean fan was painted the same year and month as a landscape in a private collection [Kokka 502 (Sept. 1932), plate 7 and page 264], and both are done in the manner of the Ming dynasty painter Chen Zhou (1427-1509), according to the artist's inscription. From the earlier artist, Itsuun has taken the method of depicting foliage on top of high peaks with dot-like strokes and the bare branches of a tree that has lost most of its leaves, both of which are similar in Itsuun’s two compositions [for example, see Landscape for Liu Jue, in Cahill, Parting at the Shore, fig. 31]. Even at this late stage in his career, the similarity to his teacher Jian Jiapu’s style is easily recognisable [for works by Jian Jiapu, see Addiss, 73 and Kokka 939 (1971), plate 7].

    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. 17 on pp. 78-79, p. 39, illus. pp. 78-79

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