A very complex yet easily comprehended landscape rises precipitously up the picture plane from foreground trees by a river, to middle ground houses situated along the banks of the upper reaches of the stream, and finally to distant peaks above, the source of the river the fall of which punctuates the composition at intervals. The mountains appear not so much as massive entities as accumulations of rocks or boulders of quite similar shape and size that eventually create the whole. This additive approach to landscape is associated, in China, first with Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354) (fig. 1) and then with Lan Ying (see cat. 11) (fig. 2). The Japanese artist, who certainly knew the works of Lan Ying, abstracted the pattern even further and created an abstract design that animates the entire pictorial surface, relating to natural forms while yet remaining clearly within the aesthetic realm of painting.
Nakabayashi 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 collaborated on occasion with Uragami Shunkin (1779-1846), another major literati master. From the 1830s onward, both Chikuto and Baiitsu 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. During this 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.
‘Landscape after Lan Ying after Huang Kung-wang’ is dated to 1833, the period of the artist’s full maturity. Chikuto at this point in his life was in total control of his technique and his agile mind found very creative uses to be made of the themes he had inherited, resulting in such attractive and compelling works as the present.
Fig. 1. Huang Kung-wang, att.: ‘Jade Trees at Tan-yai,’ after Chung-kuo Mei-shu Ch’uan-chi, Hui-hua Pien, Beijing, 1989, vol. 5, pl. 50.
Fig. 2. Lan Ying: ‘Landscape’ 1640, after Ku-kung Shu-hua T’u-lu, Taipei, 1992, vol. 9, p. 211.