A paper-mache tiger stands with feet braced and mouth open in a silent roar. The orange belt around the creature’s neck resembles a collar and does much to suggest that we are facing not a wild beast but a domesticated cat. To the animal’s left rests a container with miniature rice field, complete with scarecrow to repel avaricious birds.
The upper part of the picture is filled with haiku poems. The writers of haiku one and two have not been identified. Chosa, author of haiku three, was Tawaraya Chuemon, owner of the Tawaraya brothel in the Yoshiwara district and said to have been one of the two best of Hoitsu’s disciples in haiku. Haiku four was written by Shoran (d. 1837), a lover of Hoitsu and formerly courtesan in the Yoshiwara district. She later became a nun, taking the name Myoge as appears on the present seal. She excelled not only at haiku but also in Hoitsu’s style of painting and calligraphy. Haiku five was written by Hoitsu himself.
The poems and the images all relate to the fifth month, the period of setting out the rice seedlings in the prepared fields. The feline here is perhaps intended to suggest the ferocity with which the plants must be defended if the crop was to come to maturity and provide yet another season’s bounty from the land. The tiger is also a symbol of Boy’s Day, which is celebrated annually during the fifth month.
Born in 1761, Hoitsu was the second son of Tadamochi and grandson of Lord Sakai, the fifteenth head of Himeji Castle; his mother was daughter of Matsudaira Norisuke, the head of Yamagata Castle. When Hoitsu’s grandfather died in 1772, his elder brother succeeded to family leadership and became the sixteenth Lord Sakai. His brother was good at composing haiku poems and was also practiced at the tea ceremony, being the best disciple of Matsudaira Fumai and becoming known as a collector and connoisseur of tea utensils. It is quite likely that Hoitsu as a youth was influenced by the taste and knowledge of this brother.
In 1777, at age sixteen, Hoitsu was initiated as a samurai. Up to that time he had lived mainly in the Sakai mansion in Edo except for short trips with his brother to Himeji Castle. As the son of a daimyo he had learned the military arts but he had also studied Noh drama, the drums, haiku poetry, tea-ceremony, and comic tanka, in which field he called himself Shiriyake no Sarundo,”Monkey-man with Burning Hips.” These various activities brought him into social contact with such commoners as the Ukiyo-e painter Kitao Masanobu, Tsutaya Jusaburo, a publisher of Ukiyo-e, and scholars and literati painters such as Kamo no Suetaka, Tani Buncho and Kameda Bosai.
As was common during the Edo period, Hoitsu began his study of painting with the officially-sanctioned Kano school but he was also influenced by Ukiyo-e style and by the Nagasaki style of So Shiseki and Shizan, who often visited the Sakai family. These, then, were the varying sources on which Hoitsu drew during his 20s and 30s in developing his artistic talent. In 1797, taking advantage of the visit to Edo of Bunjo Shonin of the Nishi-honganji temple in Kyoto, Hoitsu asked for tonsure as a monk, calling himself Tokaku-in Bunsen Kishin. A haiku composed by Hoitsu on that occasion makes clear that he was motivated not by religious belief but rather by his desire to escape from the real world of his circumstances, which were tightly constrained by the duties and obligations owed by members of a daimyo family.
During the last two decades or so of his life Hoitsu lived mainly in seclusion, concentrating on his own painting and on studying the life and works of Ogata Korin (1638-1716), with whom the Sakai family had had a close connection. In 1707, when the impoverished Korin first came to Edo, the Sakai family supported him with a rice allowance enough for ten persons, doubling that amount the following year. Hoitsu contacted a descend ant of Korin in 1807, requesting information on the Ogata family lineage, and in 1815 published the Ogata-ryu Ryaku Inpu, a book on Korin’s seals, and the Korin Hyakuzu, a memorial volume on the one hundred th anniversary of Korin’s death. Hoitsu had moved in Edo to the area of Neigishi in 1809 and from 1817 onward worked in a studio named the Uka’an, a designation inherited by his adopted son Oho (1808-41).
Sakai Oho was born in Edo, the second son of Kahan Sessen, abbot of a temple in Ichigaya that was affiliated with Tsukiji Hongan-ji. In 1818 at age 10, he was adopted by Hoitsu and his mistress, Myoge, and was given the name Senshin with go of Hansei, Shigen, and Uka’an, this last being also the go of Hoitsu. Oho learned to paint under Hoitsu and succeeded to the master’s tradition as Uka’an II. Oho, who is said to have loved the tea ceremony much more than reading, died on July 23 of the year 1841 and was buried at Enrin-ji in Tsukiji Hongan-ji.
Rimpa painters such as Hoitsu and Oho painted subjects which ranged from the “Thirty-six Immortal Poets” to illustrations of the Ise and Genji literati epics to flower-and-bird compositions done in typically gorgeous and decorative style. They also, however, took up common secular subjects such as tilling and cultivation and the lives and festivals of common people, and the present painting is a superior example of this type. Especially noteworthy is the collaboration of Oho’s adopted father and of his father’s mistress, Myoge.