Sakai Hoitsu (Japanese, 17611828)
Two–panel screen; ink and color on paper; 56 1/2 x 64 in. (143.5 x 162.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.3)
According to its inscription, this two-panel screen was painted in the late autumn of 1816. The solitary persimmon tree, bent and brittle with age, has already lost most of its leaves. At the center, a cluster of red fruit hangs heavy and overripe from a branch so frail that it seems to have snapped under the weight. Below grow two stalks of withered pampas grass and a few sparse weeds. The tree is crisply silhouetted against an unpainted paper ground that suggests the cold sky of a clear November day. The artist Sakai Hoitsu used this subject often on hanging scrolls and folding fans but never with the severity he displays here. The asymmetrical composition may have been complemented originally by a plum or cherry tree of early spring on a right-hand screen.
Hoitsu was born into a rich and powerful samurai family in Edo and had all the advantages of the finest education in poetry, Noh drama, tea ceremony, and painting. However, he became ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1797. He moved to Kyoto for a few years, and then returned to Edo in 1809 to form his own painting workshop and to immerse himself in the study of the life and art of Ogata Korin (16581716). His attraction to Korin, whose style he consciously sought to revive, is related to the fact that a century earlier Hoitsu's family had been among Korin's chief patrons, and numerous masterpieces by Korin were still preserved in their collection.