Nagasaki Tiger | Hirowatari Koshu (1737-1784) | Japanese scroll painting




Hirowatari Koshu (1737-1784)  廣渡 湖秀

Hanging scroll, ink on paper.

Painting inscription:

Genhi Koshu Sha   嚴斐 湖秀 寫

Upper seal:

Genhi no in  嚴斐 之 印

Lower seal:  Koshu  湖秀

Top left seal:

Senko no tsuki  千江月


Scroll: 158 cm x 51 cm (62” x 20”)

Image: 83 cm x 37.5 cm (32.5” x 15”)

Price: USD 12000

Chinese paintings of tigers tend to look realistic and aggressive, Korean artists tended to portray them as playful but with violent tendencies. Japanese tigers can have any of these characteristics: sometimes they are imbued with powerful and combative qualities, sometimes portrayed with witty and adorable expressions. This 18th century painting by Nagasaki artist Hirowatari Koshu is a notable example of the latter. Rather than creating an intimidating ambiance, the tiger’s expression is playful and feminine. The cropping of the image is extreme and the background and any subsequent sense of depth removed.

Most commonly, Nagasaki artists, in addition to skilfully depicting a tiger’s physical appearance, sought to convey something of its mood or spirit by placing it in specific contexts such as on a rocky cliff or in a bamboo grove, and engaged in various activities such as cleaning its paw or roaring. This reflected the strong influence of the late Ming dynasty style of the Chinese artist Shen Nanpin. Nanpin’s chief pupil, Kumashiro Yuhi, altered the tradition somewhat, with an emphasis on reduction and simplification of the design elements and their dramatic arrangement against flat, almost empty space. As with the present painting, some Nagasaki artists abandoned the painterly backgrounds of Shen Nanpin entirely and presented their tigers in closely cropped compositions with dramatic designs. This was a purely Japanese development. 

The Hirowatari family were one of four families in the Edo period who were official government inspectors of imported paintings (Kara-e Mekiki). They were stationed in Nagasaki during the Edo period and their duties included examining, cataloguing and copying imported Chinese and Dutch paintings. As official painters, the Hirowatari were sanctioned by government patronage and developed a distinctive style. They were originally influenced by the Kano school, later painting in a manner conforming more closely with Chinese styles.

Hirowatari Koshu (1737-1784) was a Japanese Nagasaki school artist. He originally studying painting under Ishizaki Gensho and was later adopted into the Hirowatari family by Hirowatari Koshun. He became the sixth generational head of the family and took the official position of Kara-e Mekiki from Koshun.