A rooster with tail feathers raised in a dynamic arc stands on a basket of rice with hoe laying on the ground beside. Done in ink alone, the work has yet great visual interest deriving from the expert use of ink tonality, which ranges from accents of deepest black to pale strokes of dilute ink. Textures are also varied throughout the painting to provide compositional interest and clarity.
Much of the style seen here was derived from works by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) (fig. 1). Jakuchu’s brushwork is stronger, more assured, and his composition more complex, suggesting that Jakuen was an immediate, if less talented follower of the master. In the Koga Biko it was suggested that Jakuen, named Ito Masatoki, was a son of Jakuchu, which seems reasonable but has yet to be proved. One seal used here gives the name To, which is perhaps an abbreviation of Ito, which would support the speculation that Jakuen was the son of Jakuchu, but To could also refer to Sato, Kato, Naito, etc. so the question must remain open.
One of the few known dates in the life of Jakuen was 1787; the diary of Prince Masahito (1768-1805) records an occasion in the Myoho-in attended by Hakusai (Jakuchu’s brother), Jakuen, Ichu, and Majin. Among them Jakuen produced the largest number of paintings. This would suggest that by then Jakuen was already a fully-trained artist, perhaps having been born about mid-century.
Fig. 1. Jakuchu: “Two Roosters and Hen” 1796, after Money L. Hickman and Yasuhiro Sato: The Paintings of Jakuchu, New York, 1989, cat. 39, p. 179.