Appreciating Jakuchu

pic jakuchu snake gourds

Asia House held an exhibition last month on the “eccentric” Japanese painter Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800). He was born in Kyoto to a wealthy family of grocers, inherited the business at 23, then at 40 turned it over to his brother so that he could focus on painting. He later lost his home and fortune in the great fire of 1788, and retreated to live at Sekihō-ji Temple.

Jakuchū is known for his skillful bird paintings, especially those of roosters and chickens. Both these and other subjects drawn mainly from the natural world were represented, in the form of “high resolution reproductions”. The reproductions were a good size (presumably life-size, though it is not clear from the literature) and beautifully mounted, so that it was as though you were viewing an original.

It was an unusual opportunity to come face-to-face with a dozen Jakuchū paintings, observe the brushwork and contemplate each in some detail. However, I was torn over the fact that these were reproductions not originals and departed with a faint suspicion that an online exhibition of the same images would have been very nearly as delightful.

Jakuchu Exhibition
Asia House, London
11 to 15 March 2014

Above: Itō Jakuchū, Snake gourds and insects, 18th century. Hosomi Museum. Image at