51 1/8 x 28 in. (129.86 x 71.12 cm)
Kitagawa Sosetsu (aka Inen),
(ca. 1650–ca. 1700)
Alexandria Richmond, Virtual Museum of Art
Asia, Japan, Honshu
Medium and Support:
Color on Silk Scroll
Gift of the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection
It is impressive that the lines of the fur are consistent over the entire painting.
East Wing : Basement : Conservation Lab 1
The tiger, its white species being one of the deities of the four corners of heaven, has long been a favorite subject in Oriental painting; and yet it is not a creature normally found in Japan. It is true that during the latter half of the Edo period a tiger could be seen if one traveled to Nagasaki. It had become a sideshow attraction during the Bunkyu era (1861-1863) [Misemono kenkyu, Dobutsu torai monogatari]. However, it was highly unlikely that a tiger could be seen in the Kyoto-Osaka area during the mid- Edo period. Maruyama Okyo had acquired a tiger's pelt and sketched it from life, while Ganku had obtained a tiger's head and used the studio name of "Pavilion of the Tiger's Head (Kotokan)." How Ito Jakuchu dealt with the undertaking was through the traditional method of copying a classic Chinese painting. This we learn from Jakuchu's own inscription which states that his painting is copied from the tiger painting by the Southern Song artist Mao Yi. Yet, the work believed to be the actual model for Jakuchu's painting is still kept at the temple Shoden-ji located in the Nishigamo region of Kyoto, and it has long been attributed to the Northern Song painter Li Gongmian (Gonglin). It is even thus recorded in the Shuko jisshu (an illustrated record of various antiques) complied by Matsudaira Sadanobu. Moreover, a seven-line inscription by Huang Shangu provides a description of a tiger painting by Li which conforms to the Shoden-ji "Tiger." These facts indicate that during the Edo period the Shoden-ji painting was thought to be a work by Li Gongmian. Jakuchu either boldly dared to attribute the work to Mao Yi, or it may have been his personal appraisal of the piece. In any case, the Shoden-ji painting is now believed to be by a commercial artist of the Ming period and not by Li Gongmian nor by Mao Yi.
Jakuchu's own inscription reads, "When it comes to painting material phenomena, I cannot paint it but from truth. Because there are no ferocious tigers in Japan, I have imitated Mao Yi and copied his work." In the memorial text "Ketsumei" written on the stele erected for the artist, the monk Daiten from Shokoku-ji with whom Jakuchu had developed a deep and intimate friendship noted that even though Jakuchu at one time studied Song and Yuan paintings he understood that this copying was all the more removed from the actual object. Daiten goes on to say that beginning with sketches of barnyard fowl and continuing with other images of plants, grasses, birds, animals, insects and fish drawn from life, Jakuchu eventually mastered their depictions. It is truly interesting to read Daiten's comments in light of Jakuchu's own inscription. When Jakuchu could not rely upon realism, naturalism or the actual examination of his subject matter, he had no recourse but to resort to already extant paintings. However, the great point about Jakuchu was that his copies surpassed the original models. Jakuchu's painting of hair certainly imparts the fullness of a tiger's coat; the spots look as though they could writhe in movement. This sensation is not expressed in the original model. Jakuchu was able to breathe life into a dull painting. For Jakuchu who had already drawn numerous illustrations of creatures form life through close observation and who understood the essence of these drawings, it was not a very difficult proposition. Indeed it would not be going too far to say that Jakuchu was born with a natural talent for painting and that sketching from life gave it its polish. If Jakuchu wanted to obtain a shape or such which was closer to the actual object, there were ever so many other more appropriate model books. The fact that Jakuchu resorted to using the Shoden-ji painting makes one think he enjoyed its form in this popular style.
Jakuchu's inscription continues, "Made by Jakuchu koji To Jokin of Heian (Kyoto) at the beginning of summer in the fifth year of Horeki (1755)," and is followed by two seals, "Jokin" (square intaglio) and "To-shi Keiwa" (square relief). This painting is a work of Jakuchu's fortieth year when he began to devote himself entirely to painting, having transferred the family leadership to his younger brother, Sogan (Hakusai). Besides attaining a high level of perfection, this work directly relates Jakuchu's outlook on the art of painting. For these reasons, Jakuchu's "Tiger" must be considered an extremely important work of art.
Japanese artists have seen tiger skins. Their problems arise from trying to round this skin into a living animal. In the course of doing so, the skin around the eye sockets shrinks outward making the eyes appear huge, the ears shrink in and usually become tiny, the nose becomes flat, and the paws huge. The overall disposition or character of the animal is always dependent upon the imagination of the artist. Also impressive is the fact that the lines of the fur are consistent over the entire painting. This is generally true of all depictions of fur by Japanese artists, but it still is amazing to me the infinite patience of the artist and the complete lack of any visible cheating.
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