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Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes

3 December, 2007 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

jakachu tiger

That’s the unfortunate and desperate-seeming title of an exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. From that title, would you guess that the exhibition was a collection of Japanese paintings from the Edo period (1615–1868)? But in fact the display features paintings from the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection, one of the leading collections of Edo paintings. The title apparently alludes to the representations of birds and animals that are a frequent theme in the paintings.

A good example of the latter is this image of a tiger by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800). Jakuchu was the son of a greengrocer. After his father’s death he ran the business for some 15 years before turning it over to a brother. He took the name Jakachu after a phrase in the Daode jing meaning “like the void.” He became associated with a Kyoto Buddhist temple, and this painting, produced in the summer of 1755 when Jakachu abandoned the greengrocer business, has Buddhist overtones. According to the exhibition website

The choice of subject is deeply informative of the artist’s state of mind. Jakuch? was thoroughly imbued in the practice of Zen Buddhism, and his most important works were commissions for major temples. In Zen thinking, the tiger represents a natural power that can be controlled through enlightenment seeking discipline. In the act of grooming, the tiger suggests a self-intention to move beyond a conflicted mental state and toward a focus of energy.