Meiji period (1868-1912)
‘Chrysanthemum Dew from the Sweet Valley’
Pair of six-fold screens. Ink, malachite, gofun and silver on a gold leaf ground.
Each: 371 cm x 172.5 cm (146” x 68”)
A pair of six-fold screens from the Meiji period painted by a follower of the Rimpa tradition.
Rimpa (Rinpa) is a highly stylised genre of painting and decorative arts that did not develop from a formal family lineage or school. The distinctive style originated in the early 17th century and thrived well into the 20th century with far-reaching resonance in Post-Impressionism and Art Nouveau. It has earned international acclaim as a distinctly Japanese means of pictorial expression.
As in the pair of screens presented here, Rimpa has a remarkable propensity to abbreviate, formalize and, in effect, design nature. Rimpa art presents as an art of natural imagery, bold graphic presentation, and material luxury. What is sometimes overlooked is that the themes of Rimpa art derive overwhelmingly from classical literature. Here the artist is making reference to ‘Ayama no Kikusui’, or ‘Chrysanthemum Dew from the Sweet Valley’. It is an allusion to a fabled Chinese river which flowed with the essence of chrysanthemum dew. Those who drank from the river were said to never age.
These screens showcase how the Rimpa school did not merely paint things as they are seen, but rather, the artists selected and emphasized parts to beautify reality and create original, highly impacting pieces. This pair of screens exhibit a wonderful sense of seriality and fluidity. It is a narrative-style composition influenced by hand-scrolls of Japan’s Yamato-e tradition. The banks of the graceful river are populated with brilliant clusters of chrysanthemums in bloom. They are very much alive and in tune with their surroundings. They crane toward each other in excited communication, perhaps we can even imagine them walking or dancing. The silvery river is their focal point, the most fortunate able to drink directly from it. The flowers themselves have been reduced to white orbs, perhaps suggestive of the dew that permeates the river. The leaves and stems of the plants, which ceaselessly twist and turn, have an energy that suggests they were painted without pause. Here the artist has used the quintessential Rimpa technique of ’tarashikomi’ to create pooled shades with softly blurred edges, rendered entirely without lines.
Rinpa originally blossomed in Kyoto in the 17th century with the artistic efforts of Sotatsu and Koetsu and was transmitted intermittently through the proceeding centuries. Some of the more notable artists of the Rinpa style are Ogata Korin, Nakamura Hochu, Sakai Hoitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu through to the early 20th century work of Kamisaka Sekka. Surrounding these artists, particularly in the 19th century, were students and followers about whom far less is known. Works by previously unknown artists are gradually coming to light. Perhaps the identity of the artist of this screen pair will be revealed in the future. The artist has stamped the screens with a seal reading Koudou 弘道. The second kanji character of the seal, Dou 道, is the same character used by Sakai Doitsu 酒井 道一. Doitsu was the fourth generation master of the painting studio established by Sakai Hoitsu in Negishi, Edo.