Bamboo was a favored theme of Nanga artists, who were largely based in Kyoto and often had backgrounds in Confucian studies and Chinese literati theory. Nankai was the son of a physician and clan official in Wakayama Prefecture. He studied literature and Confucianism in Edo (present-day Tokyo), but belonged to the first generation of influential Nanga painters. His earliest dated painting (1719) was of bamboo, and he produced a number of studies on the same subject.
In this depiction, the artist precisely brushed leaves and jointed stalks in varying tones to evoke a rain-soaked atmosphere and dotted ink on the nearby rock for moss. His handling reflects brushwork in woodcut-illustrated Chinese painting manuals, such as the early eighteenth-century Mustard-Seed Garden Manual, that were newly available to Japanese artists. In the Chinese tradition, the strength and flexibility of bamboo are likened to the spirit of the gentleman-scholar who bends but does not break under adversity.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Window onto Bamboo on a Rainy Day
Artist:Gion Nankai (Japanese, 1677–1751)
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:first half of the 18th century
Medium:Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 52 5/8 × 22 13/16 in. (133.7 × 58 cm) Overall with mounting: 84 1/16 × 29 7/16 in. (213.5 × 74.8 cm) Overall with knobs: 84 1/16 × 31 13/16 in. (213.5 × 80.8 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Gion Nankai (1677–1751), an innovator among nanga artists in Japan, enjoyed a lineage, education, and temperament that conformed to the Chinese concept of the literatus (J: bunjin), a connoisseur and man of letters. He was born in Edo to a physician who served the lord of Kii (Wakayama Prefecture) and studied medicine under Kinoshita Jun'an (1621–1698), a Confucian scholar and pioneering doctor of pre-Meiji Japan. He also studied Chinese philosophy and literature. As a painter Nankai was probably self-taught, learning from such manuals as the Hasshu gafu (The Eight Albums of Painting; 1671) and the Kaishien gaden (The Mustard-Seed Garden Manual), which had been introduced to Japan from China.
As was customary among young men of good family and education in the late seventeenth century, Nankai started his professional career as a Confucian scholar, serving the same family that employed his father. Perhaps because his artistic pursuits interfered with his duties, Nankai was released from his post about 1700. He led the impoverished life of an unemployed retainer until 1710, when he was pardoned and reinstated. Eventually, he became a professor in the family school. We know nothing of his painting during his ten years of unemployment, but his activities as a poet during the same period are well documented; he continued to write poems and essays on poetry throughout his life.
All the dated paintings are from the period after 1710. The earliest is a painting of bamboo executed in 1719, now in the Wanaka Kin'nosuke collection. Nankai's paintings were by-products of his intellectual pursuits, and his studies of bamboo reflect the ideals of the Chinese literati. In the Chinese tradition, the strength and flexibility of bamboo are likened to the spirit of the gentleman-scholar, who bends but does not break under adversity. The bamboo—together with the plum, harbinger of spring, and the pine, green throughout the winter—symbolized moral steadfastness and friendship. During the twelfth century in China, the three were thematically associated as the Three Worthies. Because the tall, graceful bamboo is best rep resented in painting by the use of calligraphic brushwork, the depiction of bamboo in ink monochrome came to be regarded as indicative of a painter's skill.
Bamboo as a subject for ink painting was introduced to Japan in the early fourteenth century and became popular with Zen monk-painters of the late Kamakura and early Muromachi periods. Replaced in popularity by landscape painting in the fifteenth century, the subject was rediscovered and revitalized by nanga artists of the Edo period.
The title of Nankai's painting of rain-drenched bamboo, Chikusō ujitsu (Bamboo Window on a Rainy Day), is inscribed by the artist, and the painting is executed in the kind of clear, direct brushwork advocated in Chinese painting manuals. The oddly shaped rock at the foot of the bamboo looks strangely alive, as though it were growing along with the young shoots. Ink tones vary from rich black to pale gray in a subtle combination of boldness and restraint, and light ink washes applied to the background suggest the moist atmosphere of a rainy day.
At the upper left corner of the painting is a seal that reads "Tenran" (Viewed by the Emperor), and around the emperor's seal are carvings that testify to the presence at that occasion of the finance minister, Matsukata Masayoshi (1835–1924). We thus know that the viewing took place sometime between 1880 and 1885, when Matsukata held that position.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Uetani Hajime 1959, pp. 388–92; and Wakayama Prefectural Museum 1986.  See Butsunichian kumotsu mokuroku, in Kamakurashi Shi Hensan Iinkai 1956.  Tani Shin'ichi 1936, pp. 439–47.
Signature: Nankai Gyofu utsusu.
Marking: Seals: Kikai Kasai(?); Senso(?); Tenran (viewed by the emperor)
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," November 7, 1975–January 4, 1976.
Seattle Art Museum. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," March 10–May 1, 1977.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," June 1–July 17, 1977.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings of the Nanga School," January 27–May 13, 1990.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Great Waves: Chinese Themes in the Arts of Korea and Japan I," March 1–September 21, 2003.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Post-renovation opening exhibition: Japanese galleries," April 11, 2006–January 17, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Kyoto: Capital of Artistic Imagination," July 24, 2019–January 31, 2021.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 254, cat. no. 307.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.