Simple yet full, this small work by Sakai Hōitsu represents a unique paradox of painting from a master of the Rinpa School. Against the typical vibrant, decorative Rinpa sensibility, this work stands as testament to a voluminous calmness. It contains all of the energy of Rinpa without theatrical statement, imbuing the simple form of a pine tree with subtle intensity. As with the best painting of its kind, this work represents the utter risk and reward of Japanese ink painting, executed with masterful ease. The thinly applied strokes of a few sparing gestures of deep green and inky brown pigment on paper communicate an lusciousness of form. Hōitsu does not shy from width and volume; his pine tree is defined by an embrace of large, full strokes made confidently and with a wide brush. Areas of wet and dry brushing create line and an illusion of earthly texture. Hōitsu’s signature serves rhythmic purpose, echoing the thin flourishes of ink strokes under the rightmost branch. The painting itself is strange in its own quiet way. It is not the full view of a tree, but only a cropped version, a discerning partial glance. What may otherwise appear as a casual recording belies the refined sensibility of an artist, a masterful grace that doesn’t prod its viewer for attention. In this way, it is a triumphant but covert example of Rinpa sensibility, purely distilled by Hōitsu’s own quiet meditation on nature. It is always connoisseurs’ delight to find a gem that elegantly embraces paradox, instead of stereotypical examples.
About the artist Sakai Hōitsu(1761 - 1868) is one of a major Rinpa school* artists. He revived the style and the recognition of works by Ogata Korin, who founded the school in late 1600s in Kyoto. Hōitsu was born in Edo (Tokyo) as a son of fudal lord (daimyo) of Himeji in Harima Province. Hōitsu began studying art in Kyoto in Kanō school style before he moved on to study under Utagawa Toyoharu, ukiyo-e artist. He later studied under Watanabe Nangaku of the Shijo school and So Shiseki of the Nanga school before he finally discovered the Rimpa school and became a master painter of the school.
* An article by Yamatane Museum of art in japan on the introduction of their exhibition of the Rinpa works explains Rinpa well: "....the Rimpa tradition, which originally flowered with Tawaraya Sōtatsu, Ogata Kōrin, and Sakai Hōitsu as its central figures and has been sustained by modern and contemporary nihonga artists as well as designers. In the seventeenth century, Sōtatsu, an active member of the Kyoto art world, built on Yamato-e style foundations but made use of deformé and trimming to establish a richly decorative style with striking design qualities. That style was carried on by Kōrin in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Hōitsu, who was from a daimyo family, elevated it to even greater sophistication and established Edo Rimpa as a style."