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Uragami Shunkin (1779-1846)

“Landscapes for Boken” 1822

Pair of hanging scrolls, ink and color on satin 148.7 x 50.8 cm. (58 1/2 x 20 in.)

(R) “Done for my elder brother Boken by Shunkin, called Kisen.”
(L) “On the third day after solstice of the year 1822, painted at a guesthouse in western Bizen by the recluse Shunkin.”

Artist’s seals:
Kisen no in; Shunkin koji; Hakukyo

Box inscription:
By Boken, the person to whom Shunkin dedicated the paintings.

The two paintings of this pair are complementary in terms of composition and also of style. The painting on the right is done in pointillist style, that on the left in a linear mode; with the mountains in the rightmost painting leaning in that same direction, and those in the leftmost painting tending in the opposite direction, there is a perfect compositional balance between them, one which requires the viewer to seek for commonalties in technique apart from the differences in style. Clearly a master of his craft, the artist here demonstrates both command of technique as well as of a broad range of Chinese styles.

Uragami Sen, azana Hakukyo and Jissen, familiar name Kiichiro, go Bunkyotei, Nikei, Suian, and Shunkin, was born in Bizen, the eldest son of Uragami Gyokudo (1745-1820).[1] At that time Gyokudo was serving Ikeda Masaka, lord of the Bizen branch of the Ikeda family, but in 1794 the father took his two sons, Shunkin and Shukin, and, giving up his clan service, moved first to the Jogasaki hot-spring area and then travelled around Japan. These early journeys had a profound affect on Shunkin, for they introduced him not only to the varied scenery of the country but also to a host of poets, scholars, tea-masters, writers, book-sellers, collectors, calligraphers, seal-carvers, and painters. In later years Shunkin was famed for his connoisseurship of old books and antiques, and the foundation for that expertise was certainly established in company with his father.

In 1811 Shunkin left Gyokudo and travelled to Nagasaki where he was able to see Chinese Ming and Ch’ing dynasty paintings and was exposed to the Nagasaki school of flower-and-bird masters. After returning to Kyoto Shunkin lived again with Gyokudo and associated with such literati as Rai San’yo (1780-1832), Shinozaki Shochiku (1781-1851), and Tanomura Chikuden (1777-1835), the last of whom left an admiring account of Shunkin’s many talents and accomplishments. Shunkin’s teacher in painting was undoubtedly his father, but his personality was much different and so are his paintings. A forceful and idiosyncratic personality is manifested in the brushwork and compositions of the father’s paintings while the son’s creations suggest a more congenial and socialized person in their elegant coloring and air of light fantasy. A telling story about the two artists has a visitor appearing at the house and requesting a painting. Gyokudo, who had answered the door, asked which of the two painters in the household was to supply the painting; on being told that the visitor wanted a painting from Shunkin, Gyokudo sniffed: “Oh, you want a haribako painting,” this last being a housewife’s sewing basket, which must have been graced by elegant decorative designs.


1. For a biography of Gyokudo, see Kaikodo Journal, Autumn 1996, cat. 42.

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