Lake in the Rain


  • Catalogue text

    A work of bold tonal contrasts, Lake in the Rain was first exhibited in 1926 at the First Shōtoku Taishi Memorial exhibition. In the painting, we are given a bird’s eye view of a forest-covered mountain with heavy mist wafting in the ridges. The focal point is the temple complex, made up of a series of painted roofs nestled among the trees just left of center. A wide brush has been used to lay down the overall ink wash and blend it into the silk, making the boundaries of mountain and mist, land and sky less distinct. The foliage and branches of the trees have been done with a thinner brush, but rather than stand out among the wash of the mountains, they blend in with the complex network of ink tones that make up the mountainside. To the right, a flock of birds surround a lone mountain peak that juts up through the blanket of mist covering that portion of the landscape. Yokoyama Taikan was the main artist to emerge from the Meiji period Nihonga movement in Japan, and he was often hailed as a champion of incorporating Western ideas into his paintings while maintaining an emphasis on traditional Japanese aesthetics. Taikan’s well-documented support for the Japanese armed forces during World War II, and his ardent nationalism as seen through his many paintings of Mt Fuji in the 1930s and 40s has at times overshadowed interest in his artistic development. Taikan early on showed a talent for drawing in pencil, and followed this interest until it became the central focus of his life upon entering the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1889. He later taught at the school, but resigned at the same time as his mentor Okakura Kakuzō (Tenshin) (1862-1914). From that time on, the Japan Art Institute, a place for graduates of the Tokyo Art School to share their ideas, founded by Kakuzō, became the focus of Taikan’s career. From 1899-1909, Taikan gradually developed the signature style of artists of the Institute, the mōrōtai rotai or hazy style. This is a method of painting in which line is deemphasised in favour of broad expanses of colour that define a form’s contours, and often includes complex Western-inspired shading techniques.

    Taikan travelled in America and Europe in 1904-5 when the Institute was having some financial difficulties, which served to spread his name in the West. It seems he was eager to seek approval for his works, and must have been very pleased to make the acquaintance of Laurence Binyon (1896-1943). Binyon was then the chief Asian art curator of the British Museum, and was probably given this painting by the artist in 1929 in Japan. In 1964, the painting was given to the Ashmolean by his daughter, Helen Binyon.

    Lake in the Rain shows a maturation of Taikan’s brush technique from the time of his colourful mōrōtai works, now being applied to classic ink painting subjects such as landscapes. The first ink painting of this type is one of Taikan’s masterpieces, a thirty-six-metre handscroll entitled The Wheel of Life (also referred to as Metempsychosis), which was exhibited in 1923 and is now in the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo [Kobayashi Tadashi, Nihon bijitsuin, Gendai genshoku nihon no bijutsu, vol. 2 (Tokyo: Shogakkan, 1979), plates 10-13]. Throughout the next few years, Taikan produced significant works in this style. The true subject of Lake in the Rain, one of his earliest ink paintings in this stylistic group, is a matter of some debate. The catalogue printed for the First Shōtoku Taishi Memorial Exhibition lists the title as Lake in the Rain, however the painting has features in common with works by Taikan of Evening Bell at Distant Temple (one of the Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang) of 1926 and 1927, in particular a temple nestled in mist-covered mountains [the work of 1926 published in Yokoyama Taikan Kinenkan, Taishō, Yokoyama Taikan vol. 2 (Tokyo: Dainihon Kaiga, 1993), 343, and the 1927 painting is reproduced in Shōwa I, vol. 3 of the same series, page 20]. The lack of a pagoda in the temple complex, however, may suggest that the subject is Mount Hōrai, the mythical island of the immortals inhabited by auspicious creatures such as cranes. Most of Taikan’s paintings of Mount Hōrai date to the 1940s, though there are a few examples from the 1920s as well [see ibid., 37, for the 1928 painting of Mount Hōrai and pages 246-7 for several examples from the early 1940s]. It has been suggested, almost certainly erroneously, that the birds (which are surely not cranes) were painted in after the work was exhibited [Hirayama Ikuo and Iobayashi Tadashi, eds, Daiei toshokan, Ashumorian bijutsukan, Vikutoria Arubaato hakubutsukan, Hizō nihon bijutsu taikan vol. 4 (Tokyo: Kodansha,, 1994), 165].

    The seal used here reads Shōkodō (meaning 'bell drum cave’), the name Taikan gave to his painting studio. This name was inspired by the sounds of the ocean waves in a grotto at night that the artist would hear when he was living for a short time in a fishing village in Ibaraki in 1906.

    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. 58 on pp. 198 & 200, pp. 14 & 189, illus. pp. 198-199

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