Chrysanthemums by the Stream
From Jackuchū to Murakami
This hanging scroll of chrysanthemums by the stream was painted by Itō Jackuchū (1716 – 1800), one of Japan's most ingenious artists of the 18th Century. He is presenting an ethereal range of chrysanthemums flowers by a stream that seem to grow out of an old ragged trunk covered with moss. Four little song birds can be discovered as one observes the painting, adding sound to the flowers fragrance and the movement of the water. And suddenly, our senses are fully engaged within this scene.
It is part of a series of thirty scrolls painted by Jackuchū over a decade, known as 'The colourful realm of living beings' (dōshoku sai-e) , created around 1765 when the artist was in his fifties.
This painting, on silk, is a wonderful demonstration of the artist versatility in mastership the way of ink. On the whole, it may seems like a traditional theme, but on a deeper observation, you may begin to find the work reveals itself as almost abstract, and does not really make 'sense', in the logical way. For example, the white flowers at the top could not really, physically, be held by its fine dark branch. And the background river, itself designed as three shades of decorative patterned ink, is really only reminiscence notes on the flow of water. This abstract format and the realistic images somehow come together to make sense in our imagination.
Itō jackucho (1716-1800)
Jackuchū is one of the most prolific artists of Japan. He is loved and revered by the Japanese, and his unique style does not fall really into any school of practice. That is why he is often relates to as one of the 'eccentric' artists of the 18th Century. And yet, one can challenge the notion of eccentricity. As it can only be related to, if there is a 'norm' to be eccentric in contrast to.
His extraordinary mastership of the brush demonstrate both strength and finesse. Manipulating the brush and ink in creating beautiful original compositions. A true pathfinder of the art of ink painting.
Born to a wealthy family of fruits and vegetables merchants in Kyoto, Jackuchū, as the eldest son had to handle the business for the first part of his life. Although he painted throughout that time and was already well known, he has began his first most ambitious work when he was forty two and well into his fifties, creating the series of thirty large hanging scrolls of which this painting of chrysanthemum is part of. Jackuchū was a devoted buddhist, follower of Zen. His work range from the most wild abstract like images, such as, his well known cranes and roosters, to the refined detailed of buddhas images and the natural world around us. From seashells to landscape, from flora to fauna, his work essentially carry a deep sense of the buddhist belief in the universal unity of all things.
The chrysanthemum is one of the four main subject to be mastered by the ink practitioner, known as the 'four noble ones'. It has a history within ink painting tradition which originated in ancient China.
It is said that when an artist can master painting the leaves of the chrysanthemum, they can paint anything at all.
In the two chrysanthemum painting here, we can see Jackuchū mastership of the two main schools of ink practice. Both line strokes of the flowers, on the left scroll, as well as the free brush stroke as seen on the flower on the right. Playful, detailed and ingenious, shifting our perception from the known to the imaginary (no flower grows in this fashion really), he is working the narrow space of the scroll format to its uttermost.
The flower represent the season of autumn, the air is getting colder, time to prepare for the harsh season ahead. Chrysanthemum painted by the stream, carry a reference to deep healing, strength and longevity. It was told of a hidden water stream, in a small village in Japan, which had chrysanthemum flowers growing alongside it. The petals would fall into the water, and it was believed that they transformed the quality of the water so that those who drank it lived well for many, many, long years.
We can find three styles of Jackuchū chrysanthemum painted here. Using white for the largest flowers, with a hint of green in the centre. Jackuchū only paint the edge of the white petals, creating an illusion of a whole flower. He then uses the same white with a hint of green to creates a smaller flower, adding orange red to define its contour edges. And in the third design, he picks the orange-red to create yet another type of chrysanthemum using the two painting styles of lines and washes together.
Jackucū's creates a unique dream world and invites us to dwell in it. If you look carefully you begin to unravel the way he does it. We actually view the painting from multiple view points. To begin with, we view the stream from a bird's view, and the flowers from a side view. Oh, but then, some flowers are seen from above, as well as below, and from the front flower as well as the back, revealing all sides of the flowers as well as the sculpted trunk. We are not outside this dream world, we are inside it.
The stream runs in a beautiful silhouette of a wave. It goes from the top of the paintings down the bottom of it. The stem of the chrysanthemum does the same movement, but mirror the stream. Together they make an eternity like sign.
The dark trunk with its radiating malachite green, repeats yet again the wave shape, bringing it to a pause at the bottom centre, where we find a little bird. The artist invites us to look more carefully and find the song bird, and then another and another, like the very hidden soul of the painting. Each bird, glance to a different directions as if to make sure it covers the whole universe of the artwork.
With this unique style of his, using no western vanishing point or shadows of any kind, Jackuchū creates depth and layers to the work as a whole. His dream world is alive and vibrant.
Takashi Murakami chrysanthemum by the stream
This circular print 'jumped' at me when visiting by chance an auction house in London many years ago. It was hang amongst a mix of contemporary western prints, and was clearly very different. At the time, I did not know the artist, however, I did recognised the theme of chrysanthemum by the stream. As the only bidder, on a rainy London day, I was delighted to walk home with it and hang it on the wall amongst my own artwork collection, only to discover later on it was actually the work of contemporary Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami.
Born in 1962, Takashi Murakami is one of the most well known contemporary Japanese artist of today. In keeping with the Japanese ink painting tradition of following the footprints of masters of the past, Murakami has taken up Jackuchū theme of chrysanthemum by the stream, giving it his own unique signature interpretation. Using the latest print technology of colour and gold, and a good amount of humour with his flower faces, His skilful executed print echo the theme of Jackuchū's, exploring it afresh some two hundred years later.
In a way, like the longevity essence nature of the chrysanthemum, both artworks are timeless. Perhaps their reflected atmospheric feeling rises from the same timeless source.
> For an in-depth tutorial on how to paint chrysanthemum, using Japanese ink and water colours painting check it out here
> And for the complete foundation course tutorial 'The Four Noble Ones' , which includes the chrysanthemum lesson, you are invited to join ArtBrush Foundation course
> For other individual painting tutorials check ArtBrush Online HERE
* Chrysanthemum by the stream - hanging scroll / ink and colour on silk / 142.8 x 79.1 cm / ca.1766 age 51 / Sannomaru Shōzō-kan Museum, Imperial Household Agency, Japan
* Portrait of Ito Jackuchū - by Kubota Beisen (1852-1906) / colour on silk / 55 x 35 cm/ Shōkokuji, Kyoto
* Two chrysanthemum (from a set of three) - hanging scroll / ink on silk / 94.3 x 32.3 each / Kyoto national museum