Sakai Hōitsu and the Development of Edo Rimpa Style

As we introduced in the previous article, the first American retrospective of Sakai Hōitsu at Japan Society exhibited Hōitsu’s paintings in chronological order so that you can trace how Edo Rimpa style by Hōitsu was established under the influence of Rimpa style and how his pupils succeeded his Edo Rimpa style.

Ogata Kōrin is one of the painters that Hōitsu had great influence from. Kōrin was born in 1658, a century earlier Hōitsu into a merchant family in Kyoto and followed Rimpa Style by Tawaraya Sōtatsu.

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Hōitsu’s family was a patron of Kōrin while Kōrin was invited to Edo for paintings. This relationship let Hōitsu being exposed to Kōrin’s paintings since he was young. The painting of rough waves by Kōrin is one of the one hundred Kōrin’s drawings that Hōitsu imitated when Hōitsu commemorated one hundred anniversary of Kōrin’s death. You can see wet on wet style, which is one of the painting techniques seen in Rimpa style, in the painting. It is a way of paintings that layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint.

Birds and Flowers of the Twelve months is one of the Hōitsu’s acclaimed paintings. Japanese have historically embraced the change of four seasons and it is a common theme in Japanese arts. You can also see it in Haikai poetry as well, which is a poet composed of only 16 letters. As not only a painter but also a Haikai poet, Hōitsu chose flowers, plants and insects that represented Japanese four seasons from his view point without being strained by traditional items that most Japanese painters had used before under this theme. This Hōitsu’s painting is made of 12 hanging scrolls and it was completed by the help of some of his pupils, the main one of whom was Suzuki Kiitsu.

Sakai Hōitsu (1762-1828), Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months, about 1824-1828. Feinberg Collection.

Suzuki Kiitsu heightened the sense of abstract space of masterpieces. After the death of Hōitsu, Kiitsu further led Edo Rimpa Style with being less dependent on classical foundations of Rimpa traditions. There is no start and no end in his paintings. Kiitsu chose more contemporary subjects for his paintings such as morning glories. Morning glories were Edo’s favorite flowers among Samurai and these flowers were planted in public space as well as private gardens.

Hōitsu established Edo Rimpa Style by reviving original Rimpa style and Hōitsu’s style was succeeded and developed by his pupils.