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Nakabayashi Chikuto 中林竹洞

“Spring Groves beneath Serried Peaks” 1838.

Hanging scroll, ink on silk
134.0 x 42.2 cm. (52 3/4 x 16 5/8 in.)

“’Spring Groves beneath Serried Peaks.’ During the ninth month of the year 1838, the recluse Chikuto painted this in the manner of Dong Beiyuan (Dong Yuan).”

Artist’s seals:
Seisho; azana Hakumei

Box inscription:
“’Spring Groves beneath Serried Peaks.’ Painted by Chikuto.” (Perhaps written by the artist himself.)

The composition is divided clearly into fore, middle, and far grounds yet these areas are very well unified by similarity of form and shape, by congruities of brushwork, and by the insistent repetition of horizontally oriented texture strokes on the mountains and trees. Given the complexity of the composition, and the very active surface patterns, it is easy to overlook the point of the painting: the lower left image of two scholars in conversation in front of their retreat tucked away among the foreground trees. Representing the ideal of all scholar-officials, the painting would have been attractive to any urban dweller faced with the never-ending demands of the city.

The artist’s inscription mentions the 10th century Chinese master Dong Yuan as his inspiration, and the use of texture on the rocks and peaks supports that claim. However, the architectonic nature of the composition owes far more to one of Dong’s Yuan dynasty followers, Huang Gongwang (1269-1354). The systematic, even insistent use of horizontal and vertical strokes animates the surface of the painting while also stressing the order implicit in nature behind the outer chaos.

Nakabayatheshi Nariaki, called Chikuto, was born the son of a Nagoya doctor named Nakabayashi Gento. During his teens Chikuto began to study painting with Yamada Kyujo and to live with Kamiya Ten’yu, a wealthy local collector of Chinese paintings who played the same patron role in Nagoya that Kimura Kenkado (1736-1802) did in Osaka. Another protégé of Ten’yu at this time was Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783-1856), with whom Chikuto became fast friends. It is said that the two young men one day visited the Daiko-in in Nagoya to see paintings kept there by two famous Chinese painters of the Yuan dynasty, Wang Mien (1287-1366) and Li K’an (1245-1320). Baiitsu was so moved by Wang Mien’s painting of blossoming plums that he took the character for “plum,” bai, and used it in his name; Chikuto, equally enamored of Li Kan’s bamboo painting, used “bamboo” or chiku in his chosen name.

Another early influence on Chikuto was the bamboo paintings of Miyazaki Kimpo (1717-1774), a Nagoya master of the previous generation. In the year 1796, when he was twenty years of age, Chikuto became independent and established his own studio, living the while in a small temple. His illustrated book Chikuto Gafu was published in 1800.

Having completed their initial studies and technical training by the year 1803, Chikuto and Baiitsu traveled to Kyoto in order to challenge the higher standards of that cultural Mecca for literati painters. Despite the sponsorship of Kyukyodo, a shop still in business today, Chikuto seems initially not to have been very successful and, on the death of his father, he returned to Nagoya for some time. Eventually, however, he moved again to Kyoto, and by 1813 he was ranked second on the published lists of bunjin or literati masters; from 1830 onward his name always appeared at the top of the list. During these years he joined Baiitsu as member of the circle around Rai San’yo (1780-1832), one of the most important writers of his day, and both men ordered their own painting silk from the famous Nishijin in Kyoto. This was a special “two-shuttle-weave” material on which ink and colors tended to lie on the upper surfaces of the threads and thus to stand out more sharply against the white of the lower threads, lending an air of spontaneity to the otherwise smooth strokes and creating an interesting illusion of depth to the forms.

Japanese scholars have identified certain phases in Chikuto’s life and art: I) 1781-1795, student; II) 1796-1801, independence; III) 1803-1823, early maturity; IV) 1824-39, full maturity; V) 1840-53, scholar-artist. The present painting was thus created towards the end of the period of his early maturity, when his aesthetic goals were well established and supported by superb technique. During his latest period, when he produced fewer, more routine paintings, Chikuto devoted much time to writing his important treatises on art theory and guidebooks for painters that provided a theoretical foundation for the Nanga or literati school of paintings. Chikuto died in Kyoto and was buried at Shinnyodo in his adopted city.


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