Japan art and Watanabe Shiko (1683-1755)

Japan art and Watanabe Shikō (1683-1755)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The amazing artist Watanabe Shikō (1683-1755) produced countless stunning pieces of art that remain potent in modern Japan. Hence, the rich cultural traits of China and Japan can be felt naturally in his art – alluding to art, culture, and history. 

A wide opinion emerges about many aspects of his early life. Yet, the snippets of his early life – while pointing in a certain direction are not enough to fill in the missing links. 

The Kyoto National Museum says, “Shikō went on to serve as an artist for the aristocratic Konoe family, one of the five regent clans in the ancient capital. Under its erudite head—the calligrapher, painter, poet, and statesman Konoe Iehiro (1667–1736)—Shikō expanded his purview to encompass the traditional Japanese yamato-e style of painting. Iehiro’s interest in natural history—even painting his own compendiums of botanical illustrations—influenced Shikō, as seen in his emphasis on sketching from life. Shikō’s attitudes towards art, in turn, greatly impacted some of the most famous Kyoto painters of the second half of the eighteenth century, including Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795).”

Shikō belongs to the high cultural world of Kyoto and the surrounding area encompassing the Kansai region. Thus, the diverse world of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism impacted his life to various degrees. 

The spiritual angle of Buddhism in Koyasan, Kyoto, Nara, Negoro-ji, and other important centers of religion shaped his life accordingly. Hence, his world ticked to the arts, calligraphy, literature, philosophy, poetry, spirituality, and so forth. 

The MET Museum (art piece above) says, “Around 1699 the painter of this small, lyrical landscape helped the legendary Rinpa masters Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716) and his younger brother Kenzan (1663–1743) in their venture into the commercial production of decorated ceramics. Watanabe Shikō, then still a teenager, decorated some of their wares with Kano-style painting. Shikō subsequently created a style of his own, in which he successfully synthesized the academic orthodoxy of the Kano school and the decorative style of Rinpa.”

Shikō’s legacy is abundant in modern Japan for the lovers of rinpa art and the art world he belonged to that fused the influence of China and Japan – and the cultural traits of the day. 

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