Compare and contrast the life, work and social situation of Kano Eitoku and Hasegawa Tohaku. Kano Eitoku and Hasegawa Tohaku were two painters, who worked during the Azuchi-Momoyama period in Japan. Although Eitoku is far better known as an artist, due to not only his outstanding ability in painting but also because he was a leading figure from his familial Kano School, Tohaku is often considered a rival as his skill and talent was highly comparable to that of Eitoku.
Bearing in mind that Eitoku was more fortunate to have a historically famous name with the duty to uphold and grow in reputation, Tohaku began with absolutely nothing in terms of a reputation as an artist, therefore Tohaku’s talent has often been overlooked in history, even though he was a master of his own kind. Thus, it is quite clear that fame does not translate to quality.
Although living in the same flamboyant age of extravagance, the Azuchi-Momoyama period, Eitoku and Tohaku lived in very different social situations, as they came from completely different backgrounds and lead separate lives. Taking this into account, it is not surprising that both artists eventually developed their own distinct styles, which are often compared but are vastly dissimilar. Although both artists produced works that were typically ‘Momoyama’ in style with the extensive use of vibrant colours and gold leaf background, their technique, composition and influences differ greatly.
Although the Azuchi-Momoyama Period was very brief, lasting for a mere 33 years, from approximately 1570 to 1603, it is one of the most internationally famous period of Japanese art history and is often referred to as the ‘Japanese Renaissance’, as it was notably more colourful, majestic and extravagant than any other. [i] An interval between the Muromachi and the Edo periods, the Azuchi-Momoyama period laid the foundations of modern Japan as it was during this period that the process of unification of the country began. ii] In 1582 Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s most powerful samurai and daimyo, was assassinated by one of his own men, and consequently the fearless military dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi took power and by 1590 he had control of one third of Japan. [iii] Hideyoshi was a strong, extravagant exhibitionist who enjoyed flaunting his power through building numerous castles and temples, decorated with dynamic, bold spirited artworks by his most favoured artist Eitoku.
Hideyoshi originally came from farmer descent, and served as a foot soldier of Nobunaga but rose by sheer cunning to become his top general. This could be a great underlying reason why he was so hungry for displaying his authority through impressive material possession, such as his expensive colossal castle collection. [iv] The spirit of Zen simplicity began to lose interest, vigour and attraction as it did not achieve reflecting the expressive needs in a period of continuous civil unrest and conquer, and therefore colour and animation began to replace monochrome stillness. v] Since the majority of the Azuchi-Momoyama period was reigned by Hideyoshi, buoyant, dazzling and rich paintings and Suibokuga monochrome ink paintings merged as it represented the energetic and intensely passionate spirit of the leader Hideyoshi, but also the birth of an utterly new age in Japan. [vi] During the Azuchi-Momoyama period, there were four major schools of art: The Kano School, which was the official ‘Chinese style’ school, which served the military aristocracy. The Hasegawa School, founded by Hasegawa Tohaku who broke off as an independent artist from the Kano School, in an effort to express his own sensitive style.
Also there were two other major rival schools such as the Unkoku School and the Soga School. All of the schools were influenced by Sung and Yuan dynasties of Chinese art. Since, the Kano School, dominated decorative art since the late 15th century in terms of prosperity and ability,[vii] and were the official painters for the shogun court, to compete or make an independent effort to be noticed in the same field of study was painstakingly difficult, and almost impossible as the Kano Schools reputation overs shadowed all others, including that of Hasegawa’s. viii] Whilst Hasegawa delicately and abstractly composed his work, purposely utilising empty areas on the paper, to leave mental space for thought, logic, reflection and vision like Sesshu, the Kano School painted with a more matter-of-fact approach, connecting actual reality and beauty in a with a far more stronger and direct manner. [ix] Some of the enormous castle’s that were built during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, included the Azuchi Castle for Nobunaga (1576-1579), for Hideyoshi the Osaka Castle in 1583, Jurakudai Castle in Osaka in 1586, and Momoyama Castle near Fushimi in 1594. x] These men of battle, especially Hideyoshi, who seized power through pure ambition, wanted a new kind of striking art style that portrayed their authority and might, art of grand scale, of masculine quality and elaborate showy technique to impress the pleb. And so walls of rooms and halls, sliding door screens, and folding screen panels were all decorated with paintings of curly maned lions, Zen dragons and tigers, the four seasons, boats and curved bridges, beautiful gardens and peonies. [xi]
Kano Eitoku (1543-1590) was born in Kyoto, and was the son of Kano Shoei and grandson of the leader of the Kano School in first half of the 16th century, Kano Motonobu who was the official painter of the Ashikaga Shogunate. As Eitoku displayed great talent from a young age, his skill developed exponentially under the guidance of Shoei and especially Motonobu. Over the years, the conservative and strict Kano School educated him with their techniques and style of painting, which had primarily a lot of Chinese painting influence.
Exceeding his grandfather’s skill and talent, Eitoku eventually developed his own bold and vigorous style that stemmed from his family tradition, with a dash of his own independent and strong character, which is why Hideyoshi was so fond of Eitoku and the art that he produced. Eitoku was considered to be a genius of his time, as he combined the Chinese based style of his family school, as well as the Yamato-e Japanese style of painting which was practiced by the Tosa school.
Subsequently Eitoku became the most prominent, famed and highly regarded artist of the Azuchi-Momoyama period in art history, becoming the official painter of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. [xii] In contrast, Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610) wasn’t born into a famous family with a tradition for artistic excellence, nor was he from the capital of Kyoto. Tohaku’s past still remains a very mysterious figure as little is known of his past in detail like Eitoku. xiii]Tohaku was born 4 years before Eitoku, a son of a dyer from the province of Noto, and was adopted by the Hatakeyama family (who were overlords of the region where his father worked). In 1570, Tohaku was sent to study painting in Kyoto at the Kano School. Although it is not clear who was his master, many art historians suggest that it may have been his later rival, Eitoku. Disliking the Kano family, Tohaku courageously broke away from the Kano School, creating his own Hasegawa School and returned to the Sesshu style Suibokuga ink painting. xiv] He began signing as a Sesshu descendent, claiming to be 5th generation of the Sesshu style and was highly admired and rivalled by other artists such as Unkoku Togan. Together with his son Kyuzo, Tohaku accepted numerous commissions to decorate secular and religious buildings. The Kano School in contrast, focused mainly on secular works, as they were the official school for the Shoguns. Although Tohaku did paint quite a few typically ‘Momoyama style’ gold screens, he nevertheless excelled in the area of subtle monochrome ink painting, which was also a strategy he used to differentiate himself from his famous and popular rival, Eitoku.
Eitoku and Tohaku both took part in feudal life; Eitoku not only decorated castles interiors for Hideyoshi but also did many other things at his service, for example in 1577 he drew a saddle design. Similarly Tohaku drew a map copy or chart of the Jurakudai palace. However, probably due to his strict upbringing Eitoku experienced in the wealthy business-like Kano family, Eitoku’s art was more readily responsive to the current needs of his commissioners, whilst the rebellious and unique Tohaku preferred to express himself as an individual of society creating a much more personal kind of art. xv] Under Hideyoshi’s order, castles built one after another and so Eitoku continuously had large-scale commissions to complete, it is also for this reason that Eitoku’s style became increasingly rapid and vigorous, and could have been a main cause of his premature death. [xvi] Since backgrounds were often gold-leaf, which was not only used for reflective purposes to light up the inner rooms but also to symbolise grandeur of the leaders authority, vibrant colours served to contrast against the background for harmony[xvii].
Eitoku was first patronised by Nobunaga, and then by Hideyoshi for who he painted the Osaka castle and the Jurakudai Palace. So it is clear, that in comparison to Tohaku, Eitoku was far more favoured as well as famous among his peers, and therefore was given many more grand, important commissions by the highest ranking people of his time Nobunga and Hideyoshi, while Tohaku was not so fortunate which was most probably due to the lack of recognition he received. Using sharp angular effects, he did not Japanise his style like Hasegawa and previous Sesshu painters. xviii] Eitoku’s style which had powerful tension that would thunder out of the walls and extend beyond the screen,[xix] matched perfectly to Nobunaga and especially Hideyoshi’s extravagant domineering character and political ideals. [xx] Eitoku often depicted animals and people in action, however at the same time they would always have a sense of timeless poise, a dignity that was rare in the previous medieval art works. His style was far heavier, eclectic and stronger, than Hasegawa, therefore more was preferred by political leaders, and noticed by the people.
Since in the 16th century, artistic talent was mostly measured by level of skill, and not of modern day aesthetic concepts of abstraction and metaphors, hence the commonly used term ‘craftsman’ for artists,[xxi] Eitoku was considered the best of his time and his style predominated most of the late 16th century. [xxii] Kano Eitoku’s Crane and Pine [Plate 1] made approximately in 1566, is a good example of his earlier works in Suibokuga ink painting. This painting is on sliding doors in the Juko-in Temple, a section of the many panels of landscapes, trees and cranes.
The painting features the combination of a crane and pine, which symbolise longevity. Eitoku’s style, in his early days, is less confronting than his later works, however always bears no vagueness or ambiguity, with his bold, confident, rough masculine strokes of ink. The lines are distinct and outline the forms, with open frankness, leaving no space for imagination for the viewer. Even the crane seems strong and invincible despite its slenderness. There is no abstract quality to his work, only naturalistic realism that is emphasised with his solid angular flicks.
The colours are soft and subdued to emphasise the simplicity of the ink and the subject matter that it portrays. The shapes are so angular they are almost geometric, giving the overall picture a sense of stern inflexibility, a quality that attracted the eyes of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. The pine tree trunk is exaggerated to appear more stocky, thick, heavy and indestructible and is complimented nicely with the slim yet agile looking crane. The trunk is symbolical of stamina, strength, determination and power dominating the entire room.
In another work by Eitoku, painted in 1590, named Cypress [Plate 2], is more typically Momoyama in style with its gold-leaf background, colourful foreground, which Eitoku liked to emphasise. The thick bold lines line clearly outlining the shape of the cypress tree which has warrior-like qualities, with its sharp strong looking branches, and dense looking solid trunk. Overall the painting is quite uniform and earthy in natural colour, with darkened tones, which contrasts with the gold background to enhance the striking shape and grandeur of the majestic cypress.
This work displays Eitoku’s signature style, of use gold leaf as a cloud-like mist, [xxiii] to conceal the parts of the painting he is less interested in and emphasise the main subject, the cypress. The moss growing on the tree, increases the sense of realism, showing Eitoku’s honest approach to painting, accentuating reality in all its imperfection, something Tohaku would most probably choose not to depict with his preference in idealistic forms of beauty. Much like the pine, the cypress represents strength and endurance and is depicted with very masculine qualities that coincided with Hideyoshi.
When Eitoku painted, he visualised his patron and began representing them symbolically. [xxiv] Hasegawa Tohaku showed more interest towards monochrome ink painting, and was heavily influenced by the famous Sesshu, who is thought to have brought Japanese ink painting to perfection. In many ways Tohaku reveals similar characteristics in his style, in the way he uses vertical lines to imply depth, horizontal lines for stability and depth and lines that fly off use to highlight and produced distinct form, as well as to emphasise the washed areas. xxv] In 1591, when Hideyoshi was 53 years of age, he had a son named Sutemaru. Hideyoshi showered him with love and attention however, Sutemaru tragically died before the age of 3, thus as a memorial for his dear son, Hideyoshi ordered a Buddhist temple Shounji to be built in Kyoto. Tohaku accepted this major commission and decorated the temple with his sensitive style, and painted Maple Tree and Autumn Plants [Plate 4] in 1593. It is also interesting, that Tohaku was chosen to decorate the temple, for more religious, spiritual purposes, unlike the Eitoku.
Tohaku had the ability to express spiritual sensitivity, which was not found in the more formal unsentimental realistic approach of the Eitoku’s style. [xxvi] Tohaku’s use of colour in paintings is, therefore, far more delicate, decorative, curvaceous and detailed than Eitoku’s straight forward style. [xxvii] His pure forms were fresh and almost transparent in refinement, his art revealed the notion of balancing excess and restraint together for harmony, taking a very Japanese approach where detail is abstracted. Later in life, after the early death of Eitoku, Tohaku gained more recognition and served Tokugawa Ieyasu in Edo. xxviii] The refreshing, abstract painting Pine Forest [Plate 3] is an extremely famous work by Hasegawa Tohaku that is a breathtaking transformation of nature into monochrome ink painting, on 6 double fold screen panels. It is a series of 4 groups of Hamamatsu, Japanese pines, depicted tall and strong on plain misty white screens. Tohaku’s clever composition, as well as his supreme blending and fading technique of washing the ink that he employs to create the misty, fresh feeling of autumn dawn are astoundingly beautiful and truly unique.
Unlike Eitoku and previous Yamato-e painters, who uniformly depict pines in a twisted figure, Tohaku paints them tall, peaceful, and calm that create a sense of dignity, subtle confidence and refined elegance which complements its symbolical meaning of strength, wisdom and longevity. These sensitive qualities did not exist in Eitoku’s style. The lines remain deliberately vague and uunclear to create a mysterious misty atmosphere and increase its transparency. The painting is so abstract yet more realistic that than Eitoku’s Pine and Crane, as it seems to capture the feeling of seeing a glimpse of pine trees at dawn.
The flexible perspective allows more freedom for the viewer, as the painting is not crammed and the foreground is not emphasised like in Eitoku’s work. [xxix] This work is evident of his carefully study of the Chinese Sung Master, Muqi. [xxx] The intensity of ink is varied, using a straw brush on fine paper, making swift, confident yet gentle strokes. In the background, set in the far distance, lies a vague trace of a snowy mountain peak, which adds to the overall feeling of timeless, majestic tranquillity. [xxxi]
Another work by Hasegawa Tohaku, which is very similar in subject matter to Eitoku’s Cypress, is his work Maple Tree and Autumn Plants [Plate 4] of 1592, which were done for the sliding doors of the Shoun-ji Temple. The fine lines are very delicate, making the maple tree seem fragile and almost mystical, most certainly not invincible like Eitoku’s depiction of trees, but rather beautifully weak and perishable. The trunk is covered by the wonderful burst of colourful folliage, drawing attention to the beauty of the delicate colour rather than the thick strong attribute of the tree trunk, like Eitoku’s Cypress.
To complement the maple tree, there are numerous colourful flowers at full bloom that surround it, which are also soon to perish, like the colours of the leaves of autumn. Tohaku’s sensitive depiction of nature is idealistic and attempts to condense all the possible beauty of a moment in nature and capture it onto a screen. The rich colours with gold leaf background captures the exuberance of the Azuchi-Momoyama. The choice of the season Autumn portraying the brief brilliance of Autumn leaves, is symbolically parallel to the short life of Sutemaru, much like the briefness of the time frame of the Azuchi-Momoyama period itself.
Kano Eitoku and Hasegawa Tohaku were both equally outstanding artists, that have made an enormous impact on the development of Japanese Art as well as left Japan with cultural treasures that mark important changes in Japanese history. Eitoku was and still is renowned as the leading artist of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, and is often referred to as one of the greatest artist who ever lived in Japan. Due to Eitoku’s success of expanding the Kano School reputation, as well as developing his own bold, powerful masculine style he became famous and envied by other artists of his time, such as Tohaku.
Tohaku, in contrast was an independent artist with an independent attitude, with a competitive individualistic character. His art was much more refined, abstract, sensitive and elegant in comparison to Eitoku’s style. Although Eitoku is far better known than his rival Tohaku, Tohaku’s work displays many elements which derived from a typically Japanese sentiment and ideal, and so it can be said that Tohaku’s style is more original, and in a sense, more culturally authentic than Eitoku.
Art often reveals the character of the creator, and in the case of Kano Eitoku and Hasegawa Tohaku, Eitoku was clearly more showy, rough, bold and direct, insensitive whilst Tohaku was fiercely competitive but at the same time, soft, fresh, refined and far more subtle and sensitive in depicting nature. Although Japanese artists tended not to express their own characters through depicting human figures they nevertheless communicated this through the depiction of nature full of human emotion. [xxxii] Eitoku being privileged since the time of birth, had a different intensity of drive and ambition compared to Tohaku.
Eitoku was taught from a young age that his duty in life was to carry on the name of the Kano School and uphold its reputation in society, whilst the rebellious free spirited Tohaku struggled in the oppressive shadow of the Kano School and the star Eitoku, and was motivated to go against the current and be recognised for his own talents. Endnotes ———————– [i] Swann, C. P. , A Concise History of Japanese Art. 1979, Tokyo: Kodansha International. p. 211 [ii] Ibid. p. 212 [iii] Ibid. p. 212 [iv] Moes, R. , A Flower for Every Season. Japanese Paintings from the C.
D. Carter Collection, Exhibition April 30 – Aug 10. 1975, New York: Brooklyn Museum, division of Publications and Marketing Services. p. 26 [v] Swann, C. P. , A Concise History of Japanese Art. 1979, Tokyo: Kodansha International. p. 214 [vi] Ibid. p. 213 [vii] Tsuda, N. , The Decorative Painting in the Momoyama Period. Parnassus, 1934. 6(1): p. 18-21. p. 19 [viii] Deal, W. E. , Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Japan. 2007, New York: Oxford University Press. 290-295. p. 291 [ix] Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc. . 157 [x] The Art and Architecture of Japan. London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art p. 185 [xi] Stanley-Baker, J. , Japanese Art. World of Art Series. 1984, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. p. 139 [xii] Noma, S. , The Arts of Japan: Late Medieval to Modern. Vol. 2. 1967, Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. p. 599 [xiii] The Art and Architecture of Japan. London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art. p. 192 14 Noma, S. , The Arts of Japan: Late Medieval to Modern. Vol. 2. 1967, Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd, 8. Soper, A. and R.
T. Paine, The Art and Architecture of Japan. 1958, London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art. [xiv] Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc. p. 162 [xv] Ibid. p. 185 [xvi] Ibid. p. 185 [xvii] Noma, S. , The Arts of Japan: Late Medieval to Modern. Vol. 2. 1967, Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. p. 229 [xviii] Stanley-Baker, J. , Japanese Art. World of Art Series. 1984, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. p. 138 [xix] Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc. p. 159 xx] Ibid. p. 157 [xxi] Coats, A. B. , The Arts of the Momoyama Period in Japan, in The Magazine Antiques. 1996, Academic Research Library: New York. p. 324. P. 324 [xxii] Soper, A. and R. T. Paine, The Art and Architecture of Japan. 1958, London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art. 187 [xxiii] Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc. p. 161 [xxiv] Ibid. [xxv] Soper, A. and R. T. Paine, The Art and Architecture of Japan. 1958, London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art. 187 [xxvi] Ibid. p. 94 [xxvii] Deal, W. E. , Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Japan. 2007, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 290-295. [xxviii] Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc. p. 136 [xxix] Stanley-Baker, J. , Japanese Art. World of Art Series. 1984, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. p. 146 [xxx] Ibid. p. 47 [xxxi] Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc. p. 162 Bibliography Books Swann, C. P. , A Concise History of Japanese Art. 1979, Tokyo: Kodansha International. Moes, R. A Flower for Every Season. Japanese Paintings from the C. D. Carter Collection, Exhibition April 30 – Aug 10. 1975, New York: Brooklyn Museum, division of Publications and Marketing Services. Tsuda, N. , The Decorative Painting in the Momoyama Period. Parnassus, 1934. 6(1): p. 18-21 Deal, W. E. , Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Japan. 2007, New York: Oxford University Press. Yoshikawa, I. , Major Themes in Japanese Art. 1976, New York: John Weatherhill Inc. Stanley-Baker, J. , Japanese Art. World of Art Series. 1984, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. Noma, S. The Arts of Japan: Late Medieval to Modern. Vol. 2. 1967, Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. Soper, A. and R. T. Paine, The Art and Architecture of Japan. 1958, London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art. Coats, A. B. , The Arts of the Momoyama Period in Japan, in The Magazine Antiques. 1996, Academic Research Library: New York. Momoyama Japanese Art in the Age of Grandeur. An Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized in Collaboration with the Agency for Cultural Affairs of the Japanese Government. 1975, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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