Tazaki Sōun: A Nanga Painter Who Overcame Unfavorable Circumstances and Became a Great Master in the Meiji Era

Shūtō Hōbin/Gika Inko/Shunka Kōrō (Autumn and Winter Flowers in Vessels/Psittacidae/Fragrance of Spring and Summer)

Shūtō HōbinGika InkoShunka Kōrō (Autumn and Winter Flowers in VesselsPsittacidaeFragrance of Spring and Summer) by Tazaki Sōun
Shūtō HōbinGika InkoShunka Kōrō (Autumn and Winter Flowers in VesselsPsittacidaeFragrance of Spring and Summer) by Tazaki Sōun

Tazaki Sōun was born as the eldest son of a family of “foot soldier” who served in the Ashikaga Domain in 1815. It seems that the household budget was quite difficult because his family had been a foot soldier whose stipend was very small. Sōun had been started studying martial arts and painting since he was young and his master of painting was Kanai Ujū. Soun’s father also had artistic taste for painting and studied under Kanai Ujū. That might be the background that Sōun was led to studying painting under Ujū. Later, he studied under Tani Bunchō as well. Tani Bunchō at that time, however, already got renowned as a painter and had hundreds of the disciples. So probably, Sōun might be in difficult position to have the substantial coaching.

Sōun transferred the headship of his family to the next younger brother after the age of 20. Unfavorable circumstances that he could not afford financial benefit continued until the latter years of the Meiji era afterward. His wife who supported him during such hardship got sick at the last of the hardship and passed away in the downright poverty. His child also committed suicide. As you see, it can be said that the first half of Sōun’s life was a series of hardships.

Some lights were shining to Sōun at last just when literary paintings were rising up after the Meiji era started. However, he had already retired to his hometown, Ashikaga (Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture) at that time. He received the silver prize at the 1st Naikoku Kaiga Kyōshinkai exhibition in 1882 and did the silver medal at the 1st exhibition of Nihon Bijutsu Kyokai (The Japan Art Association) in 1891. He was chosen as an Imperial Household Artist in the previous year, 1890. He was treated as a great master in his last years as per those ways and passed away at the old age of 84 in 1898.

Although Sōun started his painter life with Tani Bunchō’s styled literary paintings, most of the works were made out by independent study. He studied Chinese painters such as Qiu Ying and Liu Songnian, and his works ranged to various fields such as sketching style, Yamato-e, Rinpa school. Although it is said that he often drew landscape paintings, portraits, and bird-and-flower paintings, what we can firstly raise should be his landscape painting and it was his best. We may say, the splendid bird-and-flower paintings that we can see in this work on the triplicity are rather rare. Both a parakeet on the middle scroll and the bird-and-flower painting can look strong influence of Yanagisawa Kien in this piece of work. At the same time, it may be pointed out that he might learn lots from the painting style of Shen Quan.


Tōka Nyūkyūzu (Pigeon Perching on Peach Blossom)

Tōka Nyūkyūzu (Pigeon Perching on Peach Blossom) by Tazaki Sōun
Tōka Nyūkyūzu (Pigeon Perching on Peach Blossom) by Tazaki Sōun

While the painting style of Tazaki Sōun succeeded the style of Tani Bunchō, Sōun studied Chinese paintings independently, and moreover, he did the other styles such as Yamato-e, Rinpa school Shasei (sketching) school. As a result of the integration, he created his own painting style. The work named Tōka Nyūkūzu (Pigeon Perching on Peach blossom) was drawn under the influence of the Nanpin school.

Everyone like Tani Bunchō and Watanabe Kazan who was a disciple of Bunchō or, Yanagisawa Kien, Tsubaki Chinzan studied pieces of works by Shen Quan. They copied pieces of works of Shen Quan and got the motifs from the works so that they, each one was able to widen their painting styles and strive to enhance the moods of their paintings. The fact that Sōun learned the painting style of Sō Shiseki, a Nanpin painter in Edo, in addition to the study of the painting style of Shen Quan through Bunchō and Yanagisawa Kien has been also known.

This picture shows that a pigeon is perching on a peach branch which is hanging down from the upper right and points out the influence of Sō Shiseki in the light of the composition as well. The bird-and-flower paintings drawn by Nanpin school including Sō Shiseki used slightly rich colors so as to be the abundant painting style. However, the literary painters finished their works lightly typically seen in the literary paintings while taking such painting style of Nanpin school in. This picture drawn by Sōun expresses the world of neat and light bird-and-flower painting typically seen in the literary paintings while being influenced by Sō Shiseki. It can be said that each depiction of the branches, the leaves, and the peach blossoms put out fully sentiment scene while suppressing much colorings.