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Takai Kozan 高井鴻山

“Gathering of Ghosts and Demons”

Hanging scroll, ink on paper
148.5 x 50.5 cm. (58 1/4 x 19 7/8 in.)


Artist’s seals:
Kikai (“Unusual and rare”); Jiiken yuji (“Someone is in the pavilion that sometimes leans”)


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Ten ghosts and demons are gathered together occupying themselves in a variety of unexpected activities. The three in the foreground lean over a stone platform on which is displayed an archaic bronze-form beaker and two ceramics. One scratches his head while pointing at a vessel, their expressions and attitudes something of a parody of connoisseurs at work and play. Another group of three figures occupies the middle ground, the fox-like figure about to open a scroll while the others gather round. Somewhat above and behind this group a figure turns away, leading the eye of the viewer to the last group of three placed in the background. One rides a toad-like creature with the legs of a camel and another wields a sword in good samurai fashion. The whole engenders the distinct impression that the artist intended to satirize contemporaneous society and some of its self-conscious activities. The three figures in the foreground, for example, would seem to refer to three important social classes of the day, a hat-wearing aristocrat, a warrior with top-knot, and a monk wearing a robe.

Takai Kozan was born into a Nagano family that for several generations had produced a high quality sake. Because of their business, the Takai had close relations with feudal lords as well as aristocrats; their house was large enough to accommodate more than one-hundred family members, servants, and guests. The immensely creative artist Hokusai (1760-1849) visited
Kozan a number of times and the family owned several hundred sketches of birds, flowers, insects, as well as other subjects that were done by Hokusai that served Kozan as models for learning to how to paint.

After the founding of the Meiji era in 1878, Kozan began to paint only ghosts and demons, reportedly seeing a swarm of monsters appearing one after the other when he closed his eyes. Assuming some correlation between Kozan’s paintings and the social transformation required by the advent of foreigners in hitherto isolated Japan, it would seem that the focus of his satirical images has more to do with the recent arrivals than with locals. In his latest paintings hirsute, bearded, and grotesque figures strut and pose as if on a stage, emphasizing the distance between them and Japan proper.


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