Skip to main content

Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran: Japanese Masters of the Brush

May 1–July 22, 2007

This presentation marks the first time an exhibition in the United States has focused on the eighteenth-century master of painting and calligraphy Ike Taiga (1723–1776) and his wife Tokuyama Gyokuran (1727–1784).

Exhibition Minutes

Discoveries are made around every corner… var f_divname="mp3player"; var f_width=133; var f_height=150; var f_file="Taiga From the Director,Taiga Overview,Taiga Written Word,Taiga Calligraphy,Taiga Finger Painting,Taiga Landscapes,Taiga Gyokuran"; var f_filetype="exhibitionMinutes"; var f_title="From the Director,Overview,Written Word,Calligraphy,Finger Painting,Landscapes,Gyokuran"; Listen to or download Museum Director Anne d'Harnoncourt, curator Felice Fischer, & assistant curator Kyoko Kinoshita's 7-part Podcast. Available in

Bringing together key works from both Japanese and Western collections, it offers American audiences a look at over 200 exceptional and rarely seen screens, handscrolls, hanging scrolls, and album and fan paintings by the two artists. Among them are designated Japanese National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, several of which will be seen outside Japan for the first time.

Divided into six sections and spanning nearly 40 years, the exhibition opens with Taiga's works dated from 1733 to 1749, providing a chronology of his early artistic experiments. The second section focuses on Chinese themes such as the scholar recluse, which Taiga and Gyokuran explored together. Two sections are devoted to the artists' calligraphy and poetry, both in Chinese and in Japanese. All of the poetry featured will be translated into English, marking another milestone in the study of these two artists. The interpretation of Chinese landscapes associated with the Nanga style developed by Taiga and Gyokuran forms the subject of the fifth and largest section of the exhibition. The final group of works comprises Taiga's later works, reflecting his synthesis of the various styles and approaches that preoccupied him during his career.

Taiga perhaps pictured himself as the ideal literati in the Museum's album leaf, seen above, entitled Enjoying the Moon in a Riverside Cottage. The verse by the famed Chinese Tang dynasty writer, Bo Juyi (772–846) reads:
A Friend Visits at Night
Beneath the eaves, on mat in pure breeze;
Below the pines, a cup in moonlight:
The joys of seclusion are just this way,
And even better now a friend's in sight!

There are 66 extant poems in Chinese composed by Taiga, which are translated for the first time into English for this exhibition by the eminent scholar and translator, Jonathan Chaves.

The Nanga Movement

<i>Mountain Soaring High Above Clouds</i>, circa 1769
Ike Taiga (Japanese, born 1723)
Ink and light color on paper, mounted as a hanging scroll
132.2 x 57.5 cm
Private Collection

Mountain Soaring High Above Clouds, circa 1769 Ike Taiga (Japanese, born 1723) Ink and light color on paper, mounted as a hanging scroll 132.2 x 57.5 cm Private Collection

The Nanga Movement

The mid-eighteenth century in Japan was a time of political and social stability and economic prosperity. The Tokugawa family of military rulers (shogun) was firmly ensconced in the new eastern capital of Edo as the de facto political power, while the emperor reigned as spiritual and cultural sovereign in the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto in western Japan. Regional schools were established to spread the Chinese studies that the central government espoused along with the Confucian-based political system. The study of fields such as Chinese literature, music, and medicine became specializations among the educated elite of the newly rich merchant class as well.

During this time there were many groups of artists active in Japan, but young painters like Taiga were influenced by the new motifs and techniques introduced from the continent by Chinese merchants and other immigrants to Japan. This new Chinese mode was that of the literati (called wenren in Chinese; bunjin in Japanese). In China, this group belonged to the scholar-bureaucrat class, who practiced poetry, calligraphy, and painting at leisure as an avocation for themselves and a small circle of like-minded friends. The Chinese art theorist Dong Qichang (1555–1636) called the works by literati "Southern school painting" (called Nanzhonghua in Chinese; Nanshūga in Japanese), in opposition to an academic style that he termed the Northern school. The Japanese subsequently referred to the literati style using the abbreviated term Nanga (Southern painting).

The principal sources of Chinese literati images that Taiga had access to in his early years were imported Chinese printed books that provided images and poetry from the classical Chinese repertoire. One of the distinguishing features of Taiga's landscapes that he adopted from Chinese literati models was the use of poetic inscriptions and specific four-character titles brushed onto the painting. The titles frequently allude to older Chinese paintings or lines of Chinese classical poetry, which would be recognized by the knowledgeable viewer and thus add a further layer of meaning and enjoyment.

In terms of format, Chinese literati landscapes were most often painted as tall hanging scrolls. The challenge was to fit all the elements into a visually unified composition within the restrictive confines of the narrow, vertical picture plane. Taiga's success at working out such compositional challenges is evident in the works in this exhibition.

One important element in Taiga's landscapes is his facility in using precise linear and stippled brushstrokes to lend variety and movement, heightened by his dynamic use of color.

Taiga and Gyokuran translated these compositional modes to the Japanese horizontal formats of the screen and sliding doors as well. The wider picture plane literally and figuratively provided more breathing space for their brushwork. Their borrowings from Chinese and other sources were never slavish copies but rather acted as springboards from which to take off, transforming images and ideas to establish a Japanese vision of the Nanga style.

Discover more about literati culture, and view examples of literati painting and calligraphy from the Museum's collection in the exhibition .


This exhibition is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the special cooperation of the Tokyo National Museum and the special assistance of the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art.

Main Building

About the Artists

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.


The exhibition is supported by the Yomiuri Shimbun and Mitsubishi Corporation, with transportation support provided by All Nippon Airways. The exhibition is also made possible by The National Endowment for the Arts and The Japan Foundation, and by an indemnity from The Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Major support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Exhibitions, Andrea M. Baldeck, M.D., and William M. Hollis, Jr., and The Wendt Family Charitable Foundation Fund of the Community Foundation Sonoma County. Generous support was provided by The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Maxine S. and Howard H. Lewis, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, The Blakemore Foundation, Lois and Julian Brodsky, The Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, Betsy and Robert Feinberg, The Locks Foundation, H. Christopher Luce, The Henry Luce Foundation, Martin and Margy Meyerson, Cecilia Segawa Seigle Tannenbaum, Mr. and Mrs. John M. Thalheimer, Peggy and Ellis Wachs, and other generous donors, and by The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Initial funding was provided by The Luther W. Brady Fund for Japanese Art Research.

The catalogue is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications and The Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies.


Dr. Felice Fischer • The Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art
Kyoko Kinoshita • Project Assistant Curator

Check out other exhibitions

View full calendar