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It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but we can see more of him than we could when we began.

I have presented Sakaki Hyakusen as an extremely complex figure, one whose artistic and literary aspirations drew him in two different directions: toward China, the country of his ancestry, and toward Japan, the country of his birth and upbringing. We have seen him also as an artist perpetually dissatisfied, always driven from one experiment to the next and from one brief dalliance with some momentarily attractive Chinese style to another. He tended always to press slightly beyond his technical competence, instead of pausing to consolidate what he had attained; and as a result, even his best paintings usually have some touches of awkwardness, of unrealized potential, something that keeps them from being entirely pleasing. He painted large works, ambitious works, but not masterpieces. When the Tokyo National Museum held an exhibition of “Selected Masterpieces” from its collection of the occasion of its centennial celebration in 1973, Hyakusen’s “Spring and Autumn Landscapes: screens, as fine as any paintings by him that survive, were not chosen for inclusion.

Hyakusen,Fox And Lotus Root. 1747. Yabumoto col. AmagaskiHyakusen,Fox And Lotus Root. 1747. Yabumoto col. AmagaskiWhat lay behind this discontent of Hyakusen’s? In trying to understand, let us return one last time to the Suhara House in Tōnomine, to consider, this time, not the style of the paintings, but the program and meaning of the whole series of fusuma compositions, which he himself may well have regarded as the culminating works of his career. Entering the genkan or entryway, we are confronted with a representation of the natural stone bridge on Mt. T’ien-t’ai (Fig. 84).

Hyakusen, Two Scholars and Servant on a Bridge. 1747. Tokyo National MuseumHyakusen, Two Scholars and Servant on a Bridge. 1747. Tokyo National MuseumIt is painted in ink monochrome, in Hyakusen’s Chinese-derived style; but on the bridge, staring out at us more audaciously than ferociously, is a lion (kara-shishi) painted in brilliant gold and blue, with a bright red peony in its mane, looking like an intrusion from some Momoyama screen into this austere Chinese setting (Fig. 85; for a color reproduction, see Yoshizawa, article in Kokka,no. 825, pp. 461-463). The lion may refer, as Yoshizawa has suggested, to the appearance at Mc. T’ien-t’ai of the bodhisattva Manjúsri, whose vehicle was the lion; Hyakusen may also have had in mind the legend of the lioness who hurls her cubs from this stone bridge, choosing to keep only those who manage to survive and clamber up again.[1] But, neither possibility should distract us from the basic meaning that the stone bridge on T’ien-t’ai had in Buddhist belief. (The present Sahara House was at that time the Jimon’in, part of a Shigon Buddhist monastery complex.) Beyond the bridge, legend has it, were temples occupied by arhats, those who had “attained the Way” or reached enlightenment;  by negotiating the perilous crossing of the bridge, one could join their number.[2] The placing of a representation of the bridge in the genkan, then, must have implied a passage to some higher state of being. Properly, it was the entrance to a Buddhist monastery, but what was Hyakusen’s own conception of the higher state of being into which it led?

His fusuma paintings in the rest of the house supply the answer. Blossoming plum, orchids, banana palms, bamboo in snow, weathered stones – all had for centuries signified in painting and poetry the virtues and vicissitudes of the cultivated man, the Chinese literatus. When we penetrate to the innermost of the rooms painted by Hyakusen, the room with tokonoma, the meaning of the program is brought out more directly.   In one large composition, painted on a pair of fusuma to the right of the tokonoma, a scholar with its servant has left a secluded house by the river and pauses on the path to gaze off at the mountains. In the tokonoma painting, which presumably represents his destination, more scholars are arriving and crossing another bridge (a safe, covered bridge with railings, this time) to reach a pavilion where a group of their friends have already gathered to listen to one of their number play the ch’in and to admire the scenery (Fig. 86).

Hyakusen. Scholarly Gathering in Garden.Hyakusen. Scholarly Gathering in Garden.Anon. Ming artist. Scholars Gatherd in a Pavilion. Nelson-Atkins Art MuseumAnon. Ming artist. Scholars Gatherd in a Pavilion. Nelson-Atkins Art Museum

Depictions of the idealized occupations of “lofty scholars,” in both Chinese and Japanese painting, are so ubiquitous and usually so conventionalized that we are inclined to pass lightly over the associations they carried in their time. Even in China, they had more often represented an ideal than an actuality; they were typically painted for men who tended in fact to be harried officials at the capital or in provincial posts, or men variously engaged in earning a livelihood in the “dusty world,” or merchants who aspired to gentry-scholar status, either for themselves or for their sons. In Japan, the discrepancy between the ideal and reality was even wider.   Later in the Edo period a kind of Japanese equivalent of the Chinese wen-jen figure evolved; Rai Sanyō and his circle of friends offer good examples.[3] But in the time of Hyakusen, the problem of how a Japanese Nanga painter might conform, in some aspects of his life as well as in his art, to the Chinese ideal was still very fresh and unresolved. Men such as Nankai and Kien, members of the samurai class who were well educated and whose standing in society did not depend on their painting, could afford to keep their amateur standing; no doubt they recognized in their own status enough affinities with that of the Chinese wen-jen to feel a comfortable sense of identification.

For Hyakutsen, it was not so easy. The son of a middle-class family of Chinese origin, perhaps still regarded in the community as immigrants or outsiders, he may have been presented from childhood with some family tradition, perhaps of an eminent Ming ancestor Hyakusen. NIght Landscape with Returning Traveller. Private Collection, JapanHyakusen. NIght Landscape with Returning Traveller. Private Collection, Japanwho had achieved a good education and some official post. He may have dreamed of becoming a Chinese literatus, thus realizing the highest potential of his Chinese heritage. Tanaka Kisaku’s vision, in his 1944 article, of Hyakusen wearing a Chinese robe and Chinese shoes and longing to be truly Chinese is probably close to the truth (Shoki Nanga no Kenkyū, p. 47). About this, however, we can only guess; in any case, the reality was that he was a man of the chōnin (townsman) class, officially the lowest on the Tokugawa social scale. Natural BridgeNatural BridgeHis educational opportunities must have been limited; he achieved literacy, and was gifted as a haiku poet, but he was never really learned or scholarly, or comfortable in literary Chinese. The attributes and prestige of the gentry-literati who people his painting were thus beyond his reach for reasons economic, social, and educational. His only means of entry into that world was by painting the kinds of picture associated with the Ming-Ch’ing wen-jen, and in this he could excel. In his pictures he expressed constantly the ideal of high-minded aestheticism, close communion with nature, and untrammeled ease. Su Tung-p’o, an archetypal literatus-painter, drifts past the Red Cliff in picture after picture; scholars wander through landscapes or gather in gardens or mountain pavilions, or gaze at waterfalls to cleanse their minds. In one of his paintings, undated but belongings perhaps to the early 1740s, a group of scholar-gentlemen stand on the stone bridge at T’ien-t’ai, gaze at a waterfall, and compose poetry (which one of them is inscribing) all at once (Kumita Shōhei collection, Tokyo, unpublished). Such a compounding of symbolism, along with the constant search for a suitable style in which to embody it, bespeaks an almost desperate effort set forth persuasively – and thus, in a sense, to possess for himself – the wen-jen (literatus) and kao-shih (“lofty scholar”) ideal.

Hyakusen. Scholars Gathered in a Mountainside Pavilion. In Tokonoma, Suhara House, Tonomine, 1751Hyakusen. Scholars Gathered in a Mountainside Pavilion. In Tokonoma, Suhara House, Tonomine, 1751But it was forever escaping, from his life and from his painting. To some degree he must have, like Nankai, “recognized that there is a painting a distinction between refinement and vulgarity”. But the “refined kind of painting, the “pure Southern School” approach, did not interest him much. He was too good a painter to confine himself within the limits of the meager understanding of it then possible in Japan; and besides, his need to paint for a living (he used a seal reading “Selling Paintings to Keep Myself Fed”) precluded his lingering long in the most austere styles, or indulging in any fastidious distaste for popular ones. He enjoyed the pleasures of Kyoto together with Tatebe Ryōtai and others, earning himself something of a reputation for profligacy – and, as he must have realized, estranging himself still further from the “lofty scholar” ideal. Moreover, as we have seen, he deliberately gave the impression of being much more learned in the history of Chinese painting than in fact he was. He must have felt constantly the ambivalence of his role, the disparity between his own life and the ideals embodied in his paintings.

Pulled and pushed by all these forces – aspirations, circumstances, economic necessities – he moved restlessly from style to style, imitating what was at hand, seeking, no doubt, for some truly satisfying synthesis as the basis for an individual style that would give him the kind of artistic identity achieved by other painters of more secure stature. With more time, he might have reached such a synthesis, reconciling finally the Chinese and Japanese sides of his style, and ultimately leaving behind his Chinese models. One could not be a Chinese scholar-artist in Tokugawa Japan, but one could, as the examples of Taiga and Buson demonstrate, make for oneself a respected place in society and in art comparable to that of the Ming-Ch’ing artists of China, by becoming an independent Japanese master of the first rank.

Hyakusen. Detail of one pair of landscape screens. no date. Ink on gold-silver foil, Berkeley Art MuseumHyakusen. Detail of one pair of landscape screens. no date. Ink on gold-silver foil, Berkeley Art MuseumBefore we attribute Hyakusen’s failure to reach that rank to a deficiency of artistic integrity or creative genius, however, we should remember that he died at the age of fifty-five, and we should wonder what our final evaluation of Buson’s painting career might be if it had been cut short at the same age- just before, that is, he painted the Jūgi album. We might then have regarded Buson as a gifted artist who seemed unable to settle into a distinct style, who produced too many awkward and only partially successful pictures along with some very good ones, who had an unfortunate tendency to confuse sloppy brushwork with the effect of untrammeled ease, who did skillful imitations of many Chinese models, and who showed, in his last years, promise of developing into the confident master of a new, wholly admirable Japanese style. But we would not, I think, regarded him as one of the greatest masters of Nanga. In other words, his place in the history of Japanese painting might not be unlike what Hyakusen’s is today. The remaining fifteen years were crucial to Buson’s development, and the same period of time, had Hyakusen been granted it, might have carried him to greatness.

Hyakusen. Detail, Scholars Gathered in a Mountainside Pavilion. Hyakusen. Detail, Scholars Gathered in a Mountainside Pavilion.

As it is, his achievements are far from inconsiderable. The great legacy of styles and artistic ideas that he passed on to later Nanga masters has been identified at length in this study, and need not be listed again. We may hope that as more of his works come to light and more research on his life and paintings leads to a fuller understanding than we have reached, his contributions can be better established. But even now we can recognize that it was Sakaki Hyakusen, more than any other artist of his age, who opened the way for the great flowering of Nanga that followed, and that his best paintings stand as the finest achievements of the first period of Japanese Nanga.

[1] Cf. Soga Shōhaku’s representation of that subject in the Burke collection, catalog no. 61. The possible connection between Hyakusen’s painting and Shōhaku’s was pointed out in a lecture by Dr. Money Hickman of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

[2] Wen Fong, The Lohans and a Bridge to Heaven (Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art, 1957), pp. 13-17.

[3] An extended study of the development of the bokkyaku type of scholar-artist in Japan and its social and economic basis is presently being made by Yoko Woodson.


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