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Tatabe Ryotai (1719-1774)

“Tiger by Waterfall”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
116.6 x 52 cm. (45 7/8 x 20 1/2 in.)

“Ken Choko.”

Artist’s seals:
Ken Ryotai in; Mokyo; Sansui sei’in (“Pure sounds over mountains and waters”)

A tiger with piercing gaze emerges cautiously from a thicket of brush and tree, treading along a path that borders a rushing torrent. Characterized by meticulous drawing of his stripes, which are arranged in somewhat natural but also decorative patterns, the tiger is partially overlapped by a rock on the left, which gives him an unusual silhouette on that side and also creates great pictorial tension, given that the rear portions of his body are behind the rock while his head and paws are in front. The surface of the painting is unusually dense, with the rocks, tree, vegetation, and waterfall filling all the available space with the result that the tiger, placed in the very center of the picture in the foreground, is emphasized as the main and very dynamic subject of the work.

Tatabe Ryotai was a Nanga school painter, illustrator, poet and novelist. Born in Mutsu province, he was the second son of Kitamura Shoi, a retainer of the daimyo of Hirosaki. First studying painting under Sakaki Hyakusen (1698-1753) in Kyoto, he later travelled to Nagasaki to study under Kumashiro Yuhi (1693/1713-1772). Ryotai at one time became at priest at Tofuku-ji in Kyoto but later returned to the secular world, teaching haiku poetry in Edo. Ryotai was an important illustrator, working on the Kanyosai Gafu and the Kenshi Gaen. He also wrote a textbook on painting in the Chinese style, the Kanga Shin’on. According to Laurance Roberts, whose biography of Ryotai is given here, Ryotai’s illustrations are “both bold and amusing,”[1] and the same can be said about the present, most compelling painting.


1. Laurance P. Roberts: A Dictionary of Japanese Artists, Tokyo and New York, 1967, p. 132.

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