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Yamamoto Baiitsu 山本梅逸
(1783-1858)

“Birds Amongst Flowers”
鳥在花圖

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
154.6 x 57.8 cm. (60 7/8 x 22 3/4 in.)

Inscription:
“Painted by Baiitsu.”

Artist’s seal:
Yamamoto Ryo

 

(NOTE: Further information, including box inscription, is provided below the detailed images.)

Details:

 

Box inscription:
梅逸畫春冬花鳥
Baiitsu painted spring and winter flowers and birds.

 

A lovely group of blossoming flowers together with four small birds constitute the subject matter of the painting: blossoming plum, camellia, and narcissus. These are rendered in impeccable technique with admirable verisimilitude and conservative pictorial values. Variations in brush and inkwork create visual tension while yet satisfying our desire for variety and complexity. The artist’s control of his brush and ink identifies him as a true master of his craft.

Born in Nagoya, the son of a sculptor who served the Owari or Nagoya branch of the Tokugawa clan, Baiitsu early on evidenced talent in painting and studied with Yamamoto Rantei (active mid-19th century), a local Kano school painter, and then with Cho Gessho (1722-1832). But it was likely his relationship with Kamiya Ten’yu, a wealthy merchant and collector of old paintings, that gave greatest impetus to the development of Baiitsu’s career. In company with his close friend Nakabayashi Chikuto (1776-1853), Baiitsu studied early paintings and was introduced to the literati arts and values by Ten’yu and his circle of friends.

After moving to Kyoto they quickly became acquainted with literati circles and activities in that city. Although Baiitsu periodically returned to Nagoya, he was mainly in Kyoto during the period 1832-1854. The assured technique, the great beauty, and the accessibility of his paintings suggest some of the reasons for his great success in Kyoto, which could not but arouse the jealousy of other painters.

It was undoubtedly one of these who commissioned for a large sum of money a painting on silk from Baiitsu, who naturally complied with the request at once. Somewhat later Baiitsu was invited by the same person to a banquet in Gion where they were entertained by a geisha. As she danced, her silk underclothes could be seen to have been painted by Baiitsu, who thus undeservedly earned the unsavory reputation of being willing to paint anything for money. His friend Chikuto sought to console him with a punning rhyme that made light of the event–“From this day forward we too will look at flowers in the capital, mountain-grown plums (ie. Baiitsu himself) from my hometown”—but in 1853 Chikuto died, leaving Baiitsu with nothing to prevent his return home in humiliation. Once there, however, under the patronage of the Owari clan, Baiitsu was sought out by students and received the remuneration and honor that were his well-earned due.

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