Ito Jakuchu (伊藤若冲)

Jakuchu ITO (March 1, 1716 - October 27, 1800) was a painter in Kyoto during the Edo period. He ranks with Shohaku SOGA and Rosetsu NAGASAWA as an 'eccentric painter' who skillfully fused reality and imagination.

He was born in 1716 as the heir to the wholesale greengrocer Musugen in Nishiki-koji, Kyoto. At the age of 23, when his father died, he took his father's name Genzaemon MASUYA (ITO) and became the fourth generation owner of the family business. His pseudonym, Jakuchu, was a Koji-go, a name given to a Buddhist layman by a Zen monk, Daiten Kenjo of Shokoku-ji Temple. According to the historical record left by Daiten "Tokei Wagaenoki," Jakuchu was interested only in painting and showed no interest in public affairs. He was not too enthusiastic about his family business and he was not into other art forms, nor alcohol. He never married. In 1755, when he was 40 years old, he surrendered the family business to his younger brother and retired (at the time 40 years old was considered elderly) to a life of painting. From that time to his death at the age of 85, he created many outstanding works.

Art Style
The 'Zoku Shoka Jinbutsushi' by Bunzo AOYAGI tells that Jakuchu studied under Shunboku OOKA, a painter of the Kano school. Jakuchu's tombstone has an inscription by Daiten Kenjo that says he studied at the Kano school; however, there is no historical record of him receiving training there. It is difficult to see the Kano school's influence in Jakuchu's works; however, the similarity between Jakuchu's designs and Kano school's picture books has been suggested.
(Shuboku OOKA is a person who contributed to the spread of Kano school designs and methods through the publication of picture books created by the Kano school.)

The epitaph on Jakuchu's tombstone notes that after Jakuchu learned the Kano school methods, he left to study Sogen-ga (Chinese Song and Yuan painting, with vividly painted flowers and birds), with a desire to reproduce them. After he tired of reproducing Sogen-ga, he moved on to sketches of real life subjects. His transition to sketches was affected by the heightened momentum for positivism, as was seen in the trend for Honzogaku (Chinese botany). It is also said that Daiten Kenjo learned about the realistic sketches of Sogen-ga through literature, which he told Jakuchu.

There are not many landscape paintings, but he painted vivid pictures of flowers and birds; his paintings of fowls show particularly outstanding work. His work features beautiful colors and detailed sketches, but is far from being realistic. His works were created with his unique technique of capturing and expressing the colors and shapes of nature as seen through his eyes.

His famous work 'Doshoku Sai-e' (Pictures of the Colorful Realm of Living Beings) is a gorgeous collection of 30 paintings of fowls, a phoenix, plants and fish using a diverse arabesque of colors and shapes. Based on detailed sketching, they also project an unreal atmosphere similar to modern day Surrealism. Doshoku Sai-e' was donated to Shokoku-ji Temple, which later passed to the Imperial family and currently is maintained by the Imperial Household Agency.

Re-Evaluation of His Work
Until recently Jakuchu was known only to few, but with the publication of "Kiso no Keifu" by Nobuo TSUJI in 1970, his work entered the limelight with particularly praise coming in the latter half of the 1990s for his unique technology and construction, which dramatically increased his name recognition and popularity.

His Representative Works
Doshoku Sai-e (30 pictures of the Colorful Realm of Living Beings) (The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan)
50 Wall painting in Osho-in Room of Rokuon-ji Temple (Rokuon-ji Temple is commonly known as Kinkaku-ji Temple) (Jotenkaku Museum) Important Cultural Property
Saboten Gunkei-zu (picture of fowl and cactus) (Saifuku-ji Temple, Osaka) Important Cultural Property
Renchi-zu Fusuma (sliding partition painting of lotus pond) (Saifuku-ji Temple, Osaka) Important Cultural Property
Choju Soka-zu Byobu (folding screen painting of birds, animals, plants and flowers) (The Price Collection)
Kaso Nehan-zu (Vegetable Nirvana) (Kyoto National Museum)
Saichu-fu (Vegetables and Insects) (Yoshizawa Memorial Museum of Art, Sano)
Jukachoju-zu Byobu (folding screen painting of trees, flowers, birds and animals) (Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art)
Hechima Gunchu-zu (painting of loofah and insects) (Hosomi Museum)
Gunkei-zu (painting of fowl) (Kyoto National Museum)
Keito Kamakiri-zu (painting of cockscomb and praying mantis)

An exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of Jakuchu's death at the Kyoto National Museum in 2000 triggered a booming interest in him and his work.

In 2006, Jakuchu ITO exhibitions were held in various areas of Japan (Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Okura Shukokan Museum, Miho Museum, Sen-oku Hakuko Kan [Sumitomo Collection, Kyoto], Yamaguchi Prefectural Hagi Uragami Museum, Tokyo National Museum, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Kyushu National Museum, The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan).

In 2007, an exhibition was held at the Jotenkaku Museum at Shokoku-ji Temple, which is associated with Jakuchu ITO.

[Original Japanese]