The Rinpa school of painting’s initial phase was formed by the superlative talents of Honami Koetsu (1558-1637) and Tawaraya Sotatsu (c. 1570-c. 1630) in late 16th-century Kyoto. The aesthetics resonated with the grand and powerful ornamental inclinations of the Momoyama Period (1573-1603) — gold leaf screens, bold palettes, and abundant bird, animal and flower motifs.
Brothers Ogata Korin (1658-1716) and Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) later further refined the burgeoning Rinpa style for aristocratic tastes. Subsequent developments took regional turns. Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) followed Korin’s stylistic lead in Edo (present-day Tokyo). Nakamura Hochu (unknown-1819), whose commemorative retrospective is currently on show at the Hosomi Museum in Kyoto, utilized Korin’s style in forming a Naniwa (present-day Osaka) Rinpa contingent.
Much of Hochu’s biography is a mystery. Born in Kyoto, he studied the loose brushwork and abbreviated forms characteristic of nanga — southern school literati painting, poetry and calligraphy — to depict landscapes, such as “Landscape in Early Summer” (19th century). He also likely began Rinpa painting while in Kyoto before he abandoned the cultural capital.
Primarily active in Osaka in his 20s, Hochu became part of the literati social network. Within this world he was known for his ink finger paintings (shitōga), which, when performed live, were also an entertainment at festive gatherings. “Turtle” (18-19th century) showcases another unusual technique, having been painted with the edge of a sake cup.
Hochu then went to Edo for three years from 1799, devoting himself to the study of Korin’s painting. His “Korin Gafu” (“A Book of Pictures by Korin”), published in 1802, was in fact a book of Hochu’s own creations in a Korin-esque style. When Hochu returned to Osaka he enacted his own Rinpa vision.
For Hochu, making recourse to Korin’s style meant excessively adopting Korin’s tarashikomi technique, which was used more sparingly by Hoitsu in Edo Rinpa. Tarashikomi is a way of dripping and puddling a second layer of ink and colors on paper or metal foils while a first layer is still wet to bring about variegated chromatic effects and gradations. A good example of this is seen in Hochu’s album “Mounted Fans” (19th century). For every one of the 12 fans, each depicting seasonal flowering plants, Hochu used the tarashikomi technique for leaves and branches, as if the decorative effect was an end in itself rather than a means.
Further characteristics of Hochu’s oeuvre include clean, crisp and mostly conventional depictions of flowers, trees and seasonal grasses, such as those in the 19th-century hanging scrolls “Deer and Japanese Bush Clover Under the Moon” and “Morning Glories.”
His messier approach, however, is more engaging. This is sometimes taken to be characteristic of an Osakan Rinpa aesthetic — thickly constructed, abbreviated motifs with a smeary and somewhat sullied appearance. The exhibition’s “Dayflowers and Edamame” (18th-19th century) and the album imagery in “Flowering Plants” (19th century) are good examples.
Such looser painting practices were perhaps residual influences from Hochu’s formative nanga painting experiences. Similar kinds of artistic expression, however, might also have been sourced from the lineage of humorous Osakan figural depictions that originated with Nichosai (1757-c.1803), a painter who Hochu obviously admired, as seen in his “Six Poetic Geniuses” (18-19th century).
“200th Anniversary Exhibition: Nakamura Hochu” at the Hosomi Museum runs through Dec. 22; ¥1,400. For more information, visit www.emuseum.or.jp/eng.