After Ike Taiga’s “Horse Market in a Mountain Village”

Watanabe Kazan 渡辺崋山 Japanese

Not on view

This amazingly complex painting captures the excitement and equine energy of a horse market in the mountains. The outlines of hundreds of horses have been picked out by the artist’s brush, some left in reserve, others colored with pale red or gray. The landscape elements are rendered according to the conventions of Nanga with the leaves of trees rendered with pointillist precision and hillocks and distant mountains in gray washes with accents of jagged outlines and Mi dots. At first glance, the entire composition—both brushwork and the use of space—comes across as the work of Ike Taiga, and even features a lengthy inscription in the master’s idiosyncratic standard script. But a seal in the lower left reading “Zenrakudō” 全楽堂, and the early box inscriptions make clear that this is faithful copy of a work by Taiga created by Watanabe Kazan, a celebrated painter, poet, scholar, and patriot (and later recognized as a national hero after he was falsely imprisoned by the Tokugawa Shogunate and committed suicide).

The same seal appears on a number of Kazan copies of Taiga's works, including large-scale paintings, as here, and fans. Among Kazan's many extant preparatory sketches and notes for paintings (funpon), including faithful reproductions of originals as well as rough copies in reduced sizes, we know that he copied large numbers of paintings by many artists, including Taiga. The original painting by Taiga is still preserved at the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, where this Kazan work was also once kept (until it had to be deaccessioned by the Idemitsu Corporation during a financial crisis).

The text copied from Taiga’s original features the title of the painting, “Horse Market in a Mountain Village” (Sanson umaichi zu 山村馬市圖) in archaic clerical script. The next section gives an account of the genesis of the painting. It relates that a fellow clansman came by Taiga’s home one day. He was drunk and requested a painting of a “thousand horses.” Taiga promised to paint it another day and this [the original] is the painting that he eventually sent to his clansman with a poem attached. Towards the end of the preface, he evokes Wang Mo 王墨, the legendary Tang dynasty ink painter and discusses how Wang is able to quickly brush a painting of a myriad of horses by using “a single dot for the head and a single brushstroke for the tail.”

This prose preface is followed by a poem composed by Taiga himself, in eight lines of seven characters each, describing the setting of the painting. The season is spring, on a sunny afternoon; flowers are in bloom and vernal greenery is appearing. Boats are arriving at the nearest port, as the hustle and bustle of the market ensues; some visitors take in sermons at the local temple. In the village, there is great commotion, with dogs barking and children running amok in the marketplace. In the penultimate line, the artist confesses that he created the composition while imbibing wine.

After Ike Taiga’s “Horse Market in a Mountain Village”, Watanabe Kazan 渡辺崋山 (Japanese, 1793–1841), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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