Kishi Chikudō: The Last Great Kishi School Painter Who Built a New Style of Painting with the Techniques of Western Painting

Kōyō Shōkin-zu (Autumn Leaves and Small Birds)

Kōyō Shōkin-zu (Autumn Leaves and Small Birds) by Kishi Chikudō
Kōyō Shōkin-zu (Autumn Leaves and Small Birds) by Kishi Chikudō

Kishi Chikudō was born in 1826 in Hikone Castle town as a child of the Hikone feudal lord. His father had a great talent for martial arts. Since Kishi Chikudō only drew paintings, his father decided to send him to the clan’s painter Nakajima Antai’s place. After several years studying under Antai, he went to Kyōto and studied under Kanō Eigaku, but he was not satisfied with the formalized style of painting and became a disciple of Kishi Renzan who was active in Kyōto at that time. After that, he trained for nearly 10 years, he was adopted by Renzan and became the fourth generation of the Kishi school. From the first year of the 10s of the Meiji period, it was a difficult time for Japanese painters except for the literary painters, and Chikudō and others were drawing Yūzen (dyeing) sketches to live. Even in such a case, Chikudō devoted himself to sketching, learned the perspective of Western paintings. He was said to be the father of the modernization of Japanese paintings at the Kyōto painting circle due to his unique expression, but he lived a hard life and died in 1897 at the age of 72.
Kōyō Shōkin-zu (Autumn Leaves and Small Birds) was a theme often drawn by Chikudō. Autumn is deepening, and the maple leaves are also colored in autumn colors. The Chrysanthemums on the ground swaying in the rain are depicted at the bottom of the painting. A group of coal tit is playing, although they were surprised by the sudden rain. It is a painting of a scene that is often seen in the fields of late autumn in Japan, but the individuality of Chikudō, who devoted himself to sketching, is shown everywhere. This painting carefully depicts the subtle differences between the overlapping leaves of the autumn maple leaves, and even the appearance of the coal tit flying from the branches to the branches are drawn based on a very careful observation. At one point, Chikudō drew a sketch of Yūzen, so he would have been good at gorgeous paintings, but nothing is drawn for the decoration for this painting. Heavy rain is often drawn as a theme that expresses the changing seasonal feeling from autumn to winter, but here it plays the role of the background of the flowers and birds.

 

Kaki Chōkin-zu (Flowers and Birds)

Kaki Chōkin-zu (Flowers and Birds) by Kishi Chikudō
Kaki Chōkin-zu (Flowers and Birds) by Kishi Chikudō

Chikudō was a painter who devoted himself to sketching. It is said that when drawing a painting, it took him a lot of sketches until he was satisfied, then he went into production. Chikudō said that it is important for a painter to keep an eye and draw the changes of the universe, carrying Yatate (brush and ink which you can carry around) just as the samurai always carries swords. The Kishi school has been good at painting tigers for generations, but Chikudō did not use the painting method of the school but drew a dynamic tiger based on the accumulation of sketches. There were times when he went to the point of madness because he devised the composition of the tiger painting too much. If you look at the Kachō-ga (painting of flowers and birds) of Chikudō, you can see the witty composition rather than a painting of the elaborate painter. In these kachōga paintings, the painting methods of flowers, trees, and birds, and beasts that Chikudō obtained through sketching can be fully seen.

The “Kaki Chōkin-zu” (Flowers and Birds) was drawn by Chikudō when he was 28 years old. It is a work of Chikudō when he was young, but it is a really fun painting. A large bent plum tree is placed in the center of the painting, and a mixture of trees with flowers such as camellia and sasanqua are depicted. Iris and Dianthus have white flowers and are placed on the ground at the bottom of the painting, and two sparrows are playing friendly. At the top, a parrot is bending its neck at a twig of plum. Whether it’s a sparrow or a parrot, Chikudō’s devoted drawing techniques are clearly expressed and vividly captured.
He became a disciple of Kishi Renzan when he was eighteen years old, so he drew this Kaki Chōkin-zu in the year when he was adopted by Renzan after 10 years of training. You can see the result of absorbing the brush techniques of Renzan, who was excellent in Kachō-ga. After this, Chikudō skillfully adopted the perspective of Western painting until around the age of 50, and while struggling, he made the technique his own. In this painting, you can see many techniques of Kachō-ga which the ancestor of Kishi school, Saeki Ganku, had made, but you can see the future development of Kishi Chikudō in the depictions of flowers, trees, and birds.

 

Shūtei Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds at a Lonely Beach in Autumn) / Kaede Shōkin-zu (Maple and Small Birds)

Shūtei Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds at a Lonely Beach in Autumn) by Kishi Chikudō
Shūtei Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds at a Lonely Beach in Autumn) by Kishi Chikudō
Kaede Shōkin-zu (Maple and Small Birds) by Kishi Chikudō
Kaede Shōkin-zu (Maple and Small Birds) by Kishi Chikudō

Initially, Kishi Chikudō learned about painting from a local Kanō school painter Nakajima Antai. After that, he went to Kyōto and studied under Kanō Eigaku, but he was not satisfied with the fixed subject and formalized painting technique written in the traditional book, so after he stayed at Eigaku’s place for about a year, and later became a disciple of Kishi Renzan, and after he had rigorous training for nearly 10 years, he became the fourth generation of the Kishi school. The Kishi school is still a new and youthful school since the first generation, Saeki Ganku. He devised his own painting style by incorporating the painting techniques of the Nagasaki school and Chinese Song dynasty painting into the sketches of the Maruyama school. Chikudō added a Western-style painting technique to it and began to draw splendid Kachō-ga based on sketches. When Chikudō went out, he was constantly had Yatate (brush and ink which you can carry around) with him, and he was eager to make a sketch. He worked on the sketch until he was satisfied, and then he tried, again and again, until he was satisfied with the rough sketch. He sometimes went mad because of his innate stiffness. Chikudō, who was a pioneer in the modernization of Japanese painting, was appointed to Teishitsu Gigei-in (imperial artist) at the age of 71, and the following year,

he died in 1897. He looked like a country-side man, but many of the Kachō-ga he drew were sophisticated and elegant.

The “Shūtei Gunkin-zu” (A Group of Birds at a Lonely Beach in Autumn) depicts the flowers and birds on the edge of the water in the autumn. You can see the high level of technique that makes you feel Chikudō who devoted himself to sketching from the sandpiper underwater, the bullfinch that is stoping on the bush clover, and the sparrow that flew away from the flowers. The dew grass has pretty flowers on the soil near the water, and the condition of the flowers such as bush clover spreading in the center of the painting, the subtle changes in the color of the leaves, etc. are drawn through the sharp eyes and brush of Chikudō. The autumn atmosphere in nature is refreshing. There seems to be a reed field behind the brightly colored sandpiper.

“Kaede Shōkin-zu” is also a work that makes you feel Chikudō. The maple branches turned red and appear in a large rhombus shape on the painting. Japanese pampas grass extending from the bottom is swaying in the autumn breeze. Great tits are playing on the thick branches of maple and the stem of Japanese pampas grass. The ears of Japanese pampas grass are still thin, probably because it is a painting depicting the mountains in early autumn. The maple’s autumn leaves are also beginning to turn red only at the tip. The maple branches are also drawn lightly. Chikudō also drew sketches of Yūzen dyeing, so it would have been possible to paint a decorative and gorgeous design with a brush if he tried, but on the other hand, the simple drawing with spirituality like this “Kaede Shōkin-zu” is also the world of Chikudō’s. Just as a samurai carries swords, the painter always carries Yatate, sketching everything and the ever-changing phenomena of nature. This painting depicts the subtle changes in the appearance of nature. That is what Chikudō always insisted on and never stopped. The maple with red autumn leaves is also beautiful. However, this painting, which expresses the providence of nature, with the leaf turning red from the tip, makes you feel a glimpse of the mystery of nature.

 

Sōka-zu (Plants)

Kishi Chikudō told his disciple, “Whenever you draw a painting on silk, it is important to draw it upright, and you should not put it on the floor. That is because the painting is seen being upright.” Drawing upright requires a great deal of training and skill, and it depends on the practice whether or not a single line moves vividly.
Chikudō’s drawing attitude is also shown in this painting, which can be seen in the relaxed lines of fall grasses. Chikudō was a painter who was very enthusiastic about research, and he seems to have a wide knowledge of various old paintings. In this painting as well, a decorative atmosphere is expressed on top of strict nature observation, showing an expression that is also familiar to the Rinpa style.

 

Kachō-zu (Flower and Birds)

Kachō-zu (Flower and Birds) by Kishi Chikudō
Kachō-zu (Flower and Birds) by Kishi Chikudō

The peacock painting was the theme that expresses the most luxurious and splendid atmosphere of the Kachō-ga and has been worked on by Kyōto’s painters after Maruyama Ōkyo. The appearance of the peacock with its tail feathers fully spread probably attracted the hearts of painters who specialize in sketching.

This is a peacock drawing expressed in vivid colors on gold, but it is not splendid, but rather a calm and quiet painting. The cherry blossoms also look lonely. Chikudō may have tried to express one side of the peacock that exists behind the gorgeousness, as opposed to the gorgeousness that the peacock paintings had shown until then.
Around 1892, Chikudō was devoted to the expression of the tiger’s eyes, and once fell into a state of confusion, saying, “the tiger glared at me.” Since the production of this painting was after that, Chikudō was less impressed with the gorgeousness of the peacock, and on the contrary, he might have tried to stare at the peacock calmly.

 

Yamazakura Shōkin-zu (Wild Cherry Blossoms and A Small Bird) / Sōshun Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds in Early Spring)

Yamazakura Shōkin-zu (Wild Cherry Blossoms and A Small Bird) by Kishi Chikudō
Yamazakura Shōkin-zu (Wild Cherry Blossoms and A Small Bird) by Kishi Chikudō
Sōshun Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds in Early Spring) by Kishi Chikudō
Sōshun Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds in Early Spring) by Kishi Chikudō

Kishi Chikudō went to Kyōto at the age of 17 and studied under Kanō Eigaku who was a Kyōto Kanō school (Kanō school which served for the government in Kyōto) painter, but became unsatisfied with the traditional Kanō school world that emphasizes books and models, and after about a year, he became a disciple of Kishi Renzan. Chikudō described his feelings as follows.

“Kanō school does not interact with the real nature. It can’t grasp the truth of nature. There is no real excitement or real passion. There is a lurking joy that burns more, I did I want to meet things that have a joy that burns. I want to learn paintings like that and make my soul excited.”

He lived in Kishi Renzan’s house as a servant and practiced drawing hard. As a result, he succeeded the Kishi family, aside from his real child, Kishi Kyūgaku. Since Saeki Ganku (a founder of the Kishi school), the Kishi school had adopted a disciple who was good at painting and gave them the surname Kishi. Following the past examples, Chikudō was selected as the successor. Chikudō, who abandoned the Kanō school’s principles, focused on sketching and worked hard on it. From the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period, Kyōto was involved in political turmoil, and it became a dark age for the art world. Although Chikudō inherited the name of Kishi from Kishi Renzan, his life was difficult and he tried to make an unfamiliar business, but all of them failed, and he was able to live by drawing a sketch of Yūzen. However, in his later years, Chikudō was elected as a Teishitsu Gigei-in (imperial artist) and became a master of the Kyōto’s painting circle. However, when making the tiger painting, which was a Kishi school specialty, Chikudō struggled to express the tiger’s eyes, and as a result of his nerves, he screamed and went mad, saying, “The tiger glared on me!”

Looking at the two paintings, we can see the extremely tense spirit of Chikudō.

In the “Yamazakura Shōkin-zu (Wild Cherry Blossoms and A Small Bird)”, the brushstroke that depicts the branches of the cherry blossoms is expressed as a line with a sense of tension that extends from the bottom to the top while fainting.

The “Sōshun Gunkin-zu (A Group of Birds in Early Spring)” has a Kasumimō (a net to capture small birds) on the branch of a plum tree with flowers, and the small birds that are being captured are drawn.

These two paintings are not the Kachō-ga drawn by a painter with a normal sense. The sensitivity of Chikudō, who suffered from the expression of the tiger’s eyes and went mad, can be seen in the painting and you can understand that these are in a different dimension from a simple Kachō-ga.