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Okamoto Toyohiko (1773-1845)

“Boat on Snowy River”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
109.3 x 35.6 cm. (43 x 14 in.)


Artist’s seals:
Toyohiko; Shigen

Colophon by Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828):
“Covered in snow
the boat becomes
a big elephant.
Inscribed by Hoitsu.” Uka

(see write up below)

Okamoto Toyohiko, called Shigen, was born in Bitchu province, where he studied with Kuroda Ryozan (1755-1814). Toyohiko then traveled to Kyoto, where he became a pupil of the founder of the Shijo School, Matsumoto Goshun (1752-1811). After the death of his master, Toyohiko joined Goshun’s younger brother Keibun (1779-1843) as leaders of the Shijo tradition, painting in a style that combined naturalism with poetic sensibility. This style was to prove one of the dominating artistic forces in Kyoto during the nineteenth century, and is still an influence upon Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) today.

Toyohiko had a very successful career, painting evocative landscapes among many other subjects. He was also the teacher of two important later Shijo masters, Shiokawa Bunrin (1808-1877) and Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891); the works of both artists have achieved great success in Europe and the United States. In contrast, Toyohiko’s works are not often seen in Western collections, due largely to their continuing popularity in Japan.

One of the major features of Shijo School painting is the poetic use of wash rather than line to define forms. Here, in the depiction of a boat covered with snow, the forms are suggested rather than particularized, much like haiku poetry, allowing the viewer to bring forth the emotion rather than describing it directly. Appropriately, the painting is inscribed by one of the leading haiku masters of the early nineteenth century, Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828). Although Hoitsu is mostly celebrated today as a major painter of the Rimpa School, he was also proficient in poetry and calligraphy, as this haiku demonstrates. Without linear particularity, the form of the boat can be seen in imaginative ways such as the elephant suggested by Hoitsu; might it suggest other forms as well?

[entry by Stephen Addiss]
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