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About the Artists

Orchids, 18th century
Tokuyama Gyokuran, Japanese
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To his contemporaries Ike Taiga was an eccentric marvel, an artist who lived according to the promptings of his own inner voice, indifferent to the worldly preoccupations of those around him. The life of the man who would become a pivotal creative force of eighteenth-century Japan began in an unremarkable way. He was born into a lower middle-class family in Kyoto on the fourth day of the Fifth month of 1723. He was a child prodigy, producing his first calligraphy by the age of three, about the time his father died. By age six he began his formal education in calligraphy and Chinese classics. In his mid-teens he opened a fan shop in Kyoto to support himself and his widowed mother. His shop became prominently mentioned in contemporary guidebooks of Kyoto as one of the "must-see" places to visit.

During a prodigious career that spanned four decades, Taiga produced over 1,000 calligraphies and paintings, many large-scale screens and fusuma (sliding doors). His creative output demonstrates an impressive range of styles, techniques, composition, and subject matter, and his inventiveness and endless experimentation fueled the emergence of the Nanga school—as well as laid the groundwork for multiple paths that Japanese artists would follow in succeeding generations.

Tokuyama Gyokuran was a significant artist in her own right, and equally famed in her own time as her husband. While Taiga was her early mentor in Nanga-style painting, Gyokuran was influential in Taiga's study of Japanese classical verse. Gyokuran herself boasted a mother and grandmother who were noted poets of their day. Gyokuran's calligraphy reveals an elegant touch, and her paintings show her supple and distinctive brushwork. Accounts of Gyokuran and Taiga's bohemian lifestyle in their small studio next to the Gion shrine in Kyoto abound, and contemporary woodcuts show them painting or playing music together in a space strewn with books and papers.