Sugai Baikan (Japanese, 1784 - 1844)
Landscapes in the Styles of Chinese Masters, Edo period, ca. 1838
Pair of six-panel folding screens, ink and color on paper
Each: 57 3/8 x 124 3/8 in. (146 x 316.2 cm)
Friends of Art Fund, 1988
Baikan was among the most talented later artists of the Nanga school, those Japanese painters who identified themselves with, and worked in the styles of, Chinese literati painting masters. The skill and visual power of these screens demonstrate that Nanga remained a vibrant and creative painting tradition well into the nineteenth century.
According to their inscriptions, each of these screens is painted in the style of a different Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Chinese master. The screen on the top, entitled Mountain Retreat in Clear Summer, is after the style of Tang Yin (1470-1523), while the screen on the bottom, entitled Wintry Groves and Distant Ranges, is after the style of Lan Ying (1585-1664). Although it was common for Nanga painters to copy the styles of past Chinese masters, Baikan's screens are not merely exercises in stylistic imitation. Instead, Baikan has deliberately chosen styles whose characteristics have affinities with the seasons he has depicted.
In the top screen, for example, the short, angular brushstrokes recall the style of Tang Yin, yet also convincingly evoke the vibrant vitality of a summer landscape. In the bottom screen, on the other hand, the long, ropy strokes that describe the mountains and the sharper, darker drawing of the trees not only approximate Lan Ying's style, they also effectively convey the visual contrast between bare trees and a snow-softened winter landscape. The harmony between subject and style in these images is also enhanced by the use of colors and ink washes that further contribute to the seasonal moods these landscapes are intended to evoke.
These folding screens are of a type called byobu (literally, "protection against the wind"). Originating in China, such screens may initially have been used (as the name indicates) as temporary windbreaks at outdoor gatherings. However, they were probably used more frequently as moveable partitions indoors, where traditional Chinese and Japanese architecture provided large open spaces with relatively few permanent walls. Thus, screens of this variety, which were often created in pairs, could be used as needed to subdivide a room for greater privacy, for convenience, or for aesthetic effect. Because they were quite lightweight and portable, they were easy to rearrange, and because of their flexible hinges, they were easy to store, either folded up or flattened against the wall as decoration.
Each of the screens is signed "Baikan Gaku" (Gaku was the artist's given name; Baikan, his sobriquet), and bears two seals of the artist. One of the screens is dated with an unconventional combination of cyclical characters that has not yet been deciphered.
Sugai Baikan, a native of Sendai, first studied Nanga painting in his hometown under an obscure artist named Nemoto Jônan (dates unknown). He later moved to Edo, where he became a pupil of Tani Bunchô (1763-1840). After studying with Bunchô for some years, Baikan moved to Nagasaki, where he became the student of a Chinese Orthodox-school painter named Jiang Dalai (1744-ca. 1839). He is said to have adopted the sobriquet Baikan (literally, "plum blossom gate") during this period, after Jiang honored him with a request for a painting of that flowering tree. After leaving Jiang, Baikan lived briefly in Kyôto, where he became a familiar of the poet Rai Sanyo (1781-1832). Sometime after 1824, Baikan returned to Sendai and lived out the remainder of his years as a painter for one of the lords of the Date clan.
Addiss, Stephen. Japanese Quest for a New Vision. Exh. cat., Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, 1986, p. 77.
Roberts, Laurance P. A Dictionary of Japanese Artists. New York, 1976, pp. 7-8.
With Kenzaburo Marui, Osaka, Japan, from whom purchased in 1988
The two six-panel screens are hinged with paper hinges. The paintings were executed in ink and light color on paper, and are in very good condition with only minor evidence of wear, damage, and repairs. Titles are written in the upper right and left corners respectively, each followed by the signature and two seals of the artist.