Hanging scroll; ink on silk, 76 by 25 cm _
Mounts 157,5 by 48 cm
Signed: Seisei Kiitsu 菁々其一.
Square relief seal: Shukurin 祝琳
Suzuki Kiitsu was the leading painter of the “Edo Rimpa” movement of artists active in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Born in Edo the son of a dyer, Kiitsu began his career as an apprentice to Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828) when he was eighteen. In the early 1800s Hōitsu had revived the style of Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716), mounting an exhibition of Kōrin’s paintings in 1815 to commemorate the centenary of his death. Hōitsu also produced two illustrated books that crystallized his efforts to promote Kōrin’s style and establish himself as his successor in Edo, One Hundred Paintings by Kōrin (Kōrin hyakuzu), printed around 1816, and Compendium of Images by Ōson (Ōson gafu), printed in 1817. It was in 1817 that the twenty-one-year-old Kiitsu emerged as the top painter in Hōitsu’s workshop. That year Hōitsu’s main assistant, Suzuki Reitan (1782-1817), died from rabies, and in recognition of Kiitsu’s talents, the young painter was married to Reitan’s sister and allowed to adopt Reitan’s surname, Suzuki. Hōitsu’s many letters indicate that in the following decade Kiitsu served as his primary assistant, completing commissions and often serving as a “ghost painter” for the older master who would sign these works as his own. Kiitsu continued to serve as a retainer to the Sakai house after Hōitsu’s death, which guaranteed him a generous stipend.
Earlier Rimpa painters in Kyoto such as Tawaraya Sōtatsu (d. ca. 1640) and Ogata Kōrin had already established an approach that emphasized bold compositions and depictions of flowers and plants in brilliant colors, but Hōitsu, and to an even greater extent Kiitsu, infused their pictures with a heightened sensitivity and attention to seasonal change, weather conditions, and times of the day in their many paintings of floral subjects. Sōtatsu, Kōrin, and Hōitsu painted numerous images of cherry blossoms and crimson maple leaves, but when Kiitsu painted these subjects he depicted them by turns in monochrome nighttime silhouettes or buffeted by driving rain. The present painting of a full moon evinces Kiitsu’s interest in seasons and weather in its evocative depiction of a full moon appearing through clouds on the heels of a heavy summer rain. It perhaps derives from what had become a classic subject, “Snow, Moon, and Flowers,” which Edo-based painters, including many unaffiliated with the Rimpa group, frequently depicted. Triptychs by Hōitsu and Kiitsu that group blossoming cherry trees, snow-covered pines, and a full moon reflected in water represent what were considered the most beautiful and emblematic motifs of spring, winter, and summer, respectively.
Kiitsu executed his picture on silk, taking pains to depict a perfectly circular full moon in reserve against a background of light gray ink wash. Having allowed the moon and sky to dry he appears next to have dampened the painting surface and spread dark and light ink wash over it, resulting in the layered passages of bleeding
ink that capture the changing forms of parting clouds. A lighter cloud that crosses the lower half of the picture diagonally suggests the form of a flying dragon, which was believed to be a bringer of rain.
Although most of Kiitsu’s paintings are undated, changes in his signature style and seal usage make it possible to place them in a general chronology. Both the cursive style of the signature, “Seisei Kiitsu,” and its combination with the square relief “Shukurin” seal in this picture closely resemble those on a painting, Zhongkuei and Bamboo, that bears the date 1855, thus making the present image a work from the final years of the painter’s career.
Matthew McKelway Professor of Japanese Art History, Columbia University
Reference: Suntory Museum of Art, Suzuki Kiitsu: Standard-bearer of the Edo Rimpa School (Suntory Bijutsukan, 2016-2017)