Ito Jakuen

Rooster on a Lantern

Ito Jakuen

Item number: T-3258
Size: H 44.3" x W 15.7" (112.5 x 40 cm)
Era: Edo period (1615-1868)

Other views

ca. 1800

Hanging scroll, ink on paper Seals: Tō Gaji jinju 藤雅時人寿, Jakuen 若演 A rooster has flown up to a hanging lantern and is surveying its domain. There is a certain tension in the bird’s position as the lantern appears to be swaying under the sudden weight of the bird: it leans to one side, and the fine line of the rope receding toward the top of the painting makes it appear as if the lantern is swinging toward the viewer. The sense of controlled tension—of balance within imbalance—makes this painting appealing and exciting to the viewer. The painter Jakuen forms one of the mysteries surrounding the great eighteenth-century painter Itō Jakuchū.1 From their painting style, techniques, and motifs, even their names (both using the same character »jaku«), we know that there was a close connection of some kind.2 The questions center on how this connection was formed and on the identity of Jakuen, who clearly was a talented artist with social connections. We know that he took part in group projects and that he was versatile in both ink and color, creating works on both paper and silk, just like Jakuchū. He also created time-consuming large-scale works, such as large paintings and screens.3 We know from documents that Jakuchū had a number of apprentices—was Jakuen one of these? Or was he one of the higher-placed persons to whom Jakuchū taught painting? Hopefully these questions will be solved over time. For now, it is instructive to notice the techniques that Jakuen used, and to then compare them with Jakuchū, his likely master. In this case we are fortunate to have images of both artists in this exhibition, both on the same theme. The technique of adding ink of darker modality to lighter lines can be seen in both paintings, here in the ascending rope and the talons of the rooster. The technique of sujimegaki, of adding lines of like density ink on top of each other—a technique that Jakuchū brought to its perfection—is also seen here, used most effectively in the windows, roof, and base of the lantern. The understated use of the technique in the window latticing is executed in a discreet and sophisticated manner. The strong dark brush lines for the tail have little of the tour-de-force effect we see in Jakuchū; with Jakuen such lines are more controlled, with an emphasis on creating patterns and expressing refined order. While the two artists used many of the same techniques, in the end they created works of art quite different from each other. Clearly it is not enough to think of Jakuen as a mere imitator of Jakuchū, and this has increasingly been the consensus of both scholars and collectors over the last few years. More and more objects by Jakuen are being discovered and introduced—including the present work, a newly discovered Jakuen painting in its first public viewing. Collector Joe Price was one of the pioneer promoters of Jakuen and his recent catalog, with five outstanding works by Jakuen, stands as a testament to his vision and also to the future appreciation of this painter, no matter his true identity.4 Through the active research into such works, we may well eventually solve some of the mysteries surrounding this fine artist.5

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