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Tokuyama Gyokuran

Japanese, 1728 - 1784

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Born in 1727, Tokuyama Gyokuran came from a line of well-known poets (her mother, Yuri, and grandmother, Kaji, wrote classical Japanese verse). She learned painting in part from printed Chinese books such as the Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual and Eight Types of Picture Albums--she also studied with Yanagisawa Kien, a longtime friend and supporter of her future husband's. Her calligraphy reveals an elegant touch, and her paintings show her supple and distinctive brushwork.

She met and was married to Ike Taiga in the early 1750s, and continued her painting studies with him as well. But while Taiga was her early mentor in Nanga-style painting, Gyokuran was influential in Taiga's study of Japanese classical verse. In a small, shared studio near the Gion Shrine in their native city of Kyoto, the two of them lived a famously bohemian lifestyle, playing music, composing poetry, and creating their art together. Contemporary woodcuts show the couple living among tattered tatami mats and torn paper shoji screens, too absorbed in their work to worry about appearances.

Along with her husband, Gyokuran worked in many formats, producing fans, hanging scrolls, and handscrolls as well as large-scale sliding doors and screens. Some of their works depict traditional Chinese themes, such as the literati-scholar living an ideal life of reclusion in the countryside and sharing his poems and wine with a few like-minded friends. Gyokuran particularly excelled at painting orchids, with their sinuous leaves stirring in the breeze. Both Taiga and Gyokuran depicted bamboo in all its stages of growth and in different seasons. Both artists also used new brush techniques, such as the long, wiry lines called hemp-fiber strokes, or stippled dot-like strokes in rich colors that seem precursors to the European Impressionist style.

Although Ike Taiga was a pivotal creative force of eighteenth-century, Tokuyama Gyokuran was a significant artist in her own right--equally famed in her own time as her husband. She died in 1784.

Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran: Japanese Masters of the Brush, 2007

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