The trunk of the cherry tree, its venerable surface decorated with patches of lichen, winds upward in sinuous curves that create the impression of dance-like movement at the top. The blossoms add a glorious range of color, from white to pink and dark red, and the leaves also make manifest an expert use of color washes. The poem contributes not only meaning to the work but also plays an important role in the composition, contrasting formally with the painted subject and connecting visually with the signature in the lower right. All in all the painting stands as a striking example of the beauty and value of paintings done by artists within the Rimpa school.
Nakamura Tatsui, go Hochu and Kako, was born in Kyoto but the appearance of his name on the list of painters in the Naniwa Kyoyuroku of 1790 shows that at least by that year he was living in Osaka, in the Onchido, ‘Hall of Reviewed Knowledge.' In the Kyojitsu Satonamari of 1794 Hochu is listed with such other artists as Taiga, Buson, and Beisanjin, with his specialty being given as finger painting. In developing that expressive technique Hochu would seem to have been following the lead of Ike Taiga although his use of a kami-koyori ‘twisted paper brush’ was unique to Hochu. From the year 1796 onward Hochu is mentioned quite frequently in the diary of Kimura Kenkado (1736-1802), to whom Hochu introduced the important Kyoto painter Aoki Mokubei (1767-1833). It was during that meeting that Mokubei read Kenkado’s copy of the Chinese book T’ao Shuo and was thus convinced to become potter as well as painter. Twice a year Minagawa Kien (1734-1807) held a public exhibition of recent works by various artists, and in 1797, according to Kenkado, Hochu brought two landscapes.
Late in the year 1799 Kenkado visited Hochu to bid him farewell before the latter left for Edo. Hochu’s haiku poems written on that occasion as well as an amusing painting by Hochu were published in Edo in 1800 by Tatebe Ryotai, who also knew such artists as Kameda Bosai (1752-1826) and Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828). Another new friend of Hochu was Kawakami Fuhaku (1719-1807), haiku poet and founder of his own school of sencha tea ceremony in Edo. Several extant paintings by Hochu bear colophons written for them by Fuhaku. A letter written to Hochu in Edo by Totoki Baigai (1749-1804) shows that even during his absence he maintained close relationships with artists in the Kansai region. Hochu’s great accomplishment during the years he spent in Edo was his publication in 1802 of the Korin Gafu. Illustrating what Hochu had learned from his study of paintings by Ogata Korin (1658-1716). The Korin Gafu is much more individual in expression and original in style than Hochu’s Korin Hyaku- zu, copies of one hundred specific works by Korin published by Hochu in 1815.
Following his return to Osaka from Edo, Hochu was listed in the Naniwa Gajin Kumiai as a wa-ga, or Japanese painter, in company with Mori Sosen, Tetsuzan, Shunkei, Matsumoto Kanzan, Yamanaka Shonen, and Mori Yusen. This suggests a general evolution in Hochu’s style and subject-matter from those with some humor or irony done with relatively unshaded brush-strokes to more elegant compositions executed in the tarashikome technique of Sotatsu and Korin. Hochu ’s signatures also change over this same period of time, from a variety of characters read Hochu but varying in meaning from ‘Amidst Phoenixes,’ ‘Younger Brother to the Phoenix,’ and ‘Morally Centered’ to Hochu read consistently as ‘Within Fragrance.’
Hochu’s name appears on the list of artists who displayed their work in the exhibition commemorating the thirteenth anniversary of the death of Kenkado in 1813, in the Naniwa Jimbutsu Roku of about the same year, and in the Haikai Hokkudaiso of 1820. His name is absent, however, from the Zoku Naniwa Kyoyu Roku published in 1823, suggesting that Hochu died in 1820 or somewhat later.
1. Wakizaka Jun: ‘Nakamura Hochu no Jimbutsu Zo,’ Rimpa, Tokyo, 1991, vol. 4, pp. 255-263.