Tsuji Kako (1870 –1931)

Kongetsu 昏月 (Moon at Dusk)

Tsuji Kako (1870 –1931)

Item number: T-3732
Size: H 72.8" x L 24.8" (185 x 63 cm)
Era: Meiji era (1868-1912)

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Hanging scroll; ink on silk.

Signature: Kako ga 華香画 (Painted by Kakō)
Seal: Kako Koji 華香居士 (Kakō the Layman)
Fitted wooden double tomobako box. Inner box inscribed outside: Kongetsu no zu 昏月之圖 (Picture of the moon at dusk); signed inside: Kako ga 華香画 (Painted by Kakō); seal: Kako 華香 

Using only a range of superimposed monochrome washes and the lightest of brushstrokes, Tsuji Kako depicts the moon partially hidden by fine mist and clouds at the moment when day turns into night; the lowest section is left virtually unpainted. The research efforts of Morioka Michiyo and Imai Jun have yielded abundant information regarding the life and career of Kako, a bold experimentalist who was among the first modern Japanese artists to proclaim the importance of individuality in painting. Our understanding of his artistic development has been deepened even further by an exhibition held at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, and other venues in 2006 – 2007.

A pupil of Kono Bairei, Kako received his early training in the Maruyama-Shijo style but quickly established his own distinctive manner, specializing at first in dramatic historical and religious compositions. Always questioning his creative intentions and abilities, he began his practice of Zen in 1899, and would remain a diligent lay student throughout his life. During the ensuing decade, he developed a wide range of additional painting modes, including both an imposing, tall, brushstroke-rich bunjinga landscape style and a revolutionary manner of rendering waves with the flavor of Rinpa but an almost watercolor-like quality. He would continue to push the boundaries of conventional Kyoto painting, with the result that he did not enjoy the same degree of commercial success as the more politically astute and worldly Seiho.

This hanging scroll can be dated securely both on account of the seal, which Kako appears to have used only during the first decade of the twentieth century, and the manner in which he brushed the first part of his signature, with the vertical central stroke of the Ka nearly twice as long as the rest of the character and much thicker than any other element, causing this character to completely dominate the tiny kō and slightly larger ga (“painted”) below. This signature, which he also brushed on the scroll’s storage box, is seen only on works dating from 1901 and 1902.  Further evidence for the dating of this composition is provided by a pair of hanging scrolls of the spring and autumn moon in the collection of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto.  The Kyoto pair is a joint work by Kako, who did the right- hand scroll of the spring moon, and Takeuchi Seihō, who did the left-hand scroll depicting the autumn moon. Both were likely painted when the two artists were guests at the vacation residence of their patron, the Kobe industrialist and collector Mitsumura Toshimo (1877–1955). As in the 1901 hanging scroll of a waterfall by Seiho introduced on the preceding pages of this publication, both artists exploited to the full their Shijo-school training in the atmospheric use of ink washes.

Tsuji Kako’s screens of Green Waves and Waves and Plovers, formerly in the Griffith and Patricia Way Collection, are now in the Seattle Art Museum, and other works by the artist were introduced in our 2009 and 2010 publications.


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