Ogata Korin (尾形光琳)

Korin OGATA (1658 - July 20, 1716) was an artist in the Edo Period.

He is a representative artist of the Rin school of painting, who excelled in large decorative pictures. He had rich clients in Kyoto, and learned the classics of the Dynastic Period leaving behind many lucid and decorative works. His extraordinary sense of design brought about the term Korin Moyo (Korin Pattern), which significantly influenced Japan's current-day paintings, craftwork and design. His style was based on Yamato-e, classical Japanese style painting, but he turned to suibokuga, water ink painting, in his later life. His works include huge folding screens, and smaller works such as incense wrappings, folding fans and round uchiwa fans, as well as hand-painted Kosode kimono and makie, a Japanese lacquering technique employing sprinkled silver and gold powders and filings. His creative activities are varied, including pictures drawn on ceramic ware made by his younger brother, Kenzan OGATA.

The Ogata family and the kimono fabric dealer, Kariganeya

Korin was born the second son of Soken OGATA who ran a kimono shop, Kariganeya, in Kyoto, in 1658. When Korin was 30 years old, his father died and his older brother took over the family business. At about that time, management of the Kariganeya was on the verge of bankruptcy; yet, being a philanderer by nature, Korin spent days pursuing pleasure and squandering the huge sum he had inherited, and ended up borrowing money from his younger brother, Kenzan. It was this financial necessity that forced him to devote time to artistic work in his 40s. His style is varied with huge decorative folding screen painting to water ink painting, and all of his works were overflowing with sophisticated design. He exerted his talent in wide areas: from sometimes working together with his brother, Kenzan, drawing on ceramic ware he made, and designing kosode kimono and lacquer ware.

It is said that Koreharu, an ancestor of the Ogata family was a high ranking samurai serving Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA; however, the truth is still unknown. Koreharu's son, Dohaku OGATA (Korin's great grandfather) is said to have started the family dyeing business. Dohaku's wife was Koetsu HONAMI's older sister, meaning that Koetsu and Korin were distantly related. Dohaku's son, Sohaku, was a man of refined taste who enjoyed Koetsu style calligraphy. During the time the Kariganeya was managed by Sohaku, the business delivered goods to Masako TOKUGAWA (the daughter of Hidetaka TOKUGAWA and the wife of Emperor Gomizunoo). Sohaku's youngest child, Soken OGATA (1621 - 1687), was the father of Korin and Kenzan, who inherited the Kariganeya business. Soken, too, enjoyed Koetsu style calligraphy, and he had many hobbies, including painting. Korin was born in 1658 as Soken's second son. Soken was 38 years old at the time. His first name was Koretomi and he was commonly called Ichinojo. His brother, five years his junior, Gonpei, later called Kenzan, is known to have been a painter and potter. Korin was born into a family that dealt with kimono fabric, a business on the cutting edge of fashion, and he favored Noh, the Tea Ceremony and Calligraphy. It is said that the environment he grew up in greatly affected his future style of art. He is thought to have studied under Soken YAMAMOTO of the Kano School, yet the period in which he received his teaching is unknown.

The management of the Kariganeya was falling into decline after the death of their biggest client Tofukumonin (another name for Masako TOKUGAWA) in 1658. The management had expanded into money lending to feudal lords, accepting rice as collateral, most of which became irrecoverable, accelerating the decline of the family business. In 1687, when Korin was 30 years old, his father, Soken, died and the family business was taken over by his older brother Tozaburo. The business fell into very difficult financial trouble. The reason Korin began working on his art was to mainly supplement the family's income, which dropped significantly as the struggling family business declined.

The Beginning of His Art

During his early 30s, he changed his name to Korin. Korin's name begins to surface in historical documents after he reaches 35 years of age in 1692. In 1701, when he was 44 years old, he was made Hokyo (a rank in the priesthood that was given to higher-order priests; later, however, the rank was also awarded to painters and Buddhist sculptors). There are very few works by Korin that can be dated; however, many of his works are signed and sealed as Hokyo Korin, suggesting that his works were mostly created ove a period of a little more than 10 years, between the time he bacame a Hokyo at the age of 44 and his passing at the age of 59. One of Korin's famous works, Kakitsubata-zu (Irises) drawn on a folding screen, is considered to be one of his early works. This folding screen is also signed and sealed with Hokyo Korin, but the predominant theory is that Hokyo was added later by someone else, suggesting that Kakitsubata-zu was created before Korin became Hokyo.

Korin had many patrons, including court nobles, feudal lords and government officials. Records show that Korin often visited the residence of Tsunahira NIJO, one of the five families (Gosekke) whose members were eligible for the positions of Sessho and Kanpaku, regent or chief adviser to the Emperor, and Tsunahira's recommendation is said to have greatly affected Korin's receiving the title of Hokyo. He was also acquainted with Kuranosuke NAKAMURA (1669 - 1730), a rich man who was an official at the mint in Ginza in Kyoto. He drew a portrait of Kuranosuke (currently exhibited in the Museum Yamatobunkakan). Korin took in Kuranosuke NAKAMURA's daughter and raised her for several years. She later married Korin's son, suggesting that there was more to their relationship than just patroninzation and support. In the book written by Taichiro KOBAYASHI, Korin and Kenzen (Image of Men in the World, Volume 7) (Kadokawa Shoten Publishing), he asserted that "there is no doubt that Kuranosuke and Korin were lovers."

Move to Edo and Return to Kyoto

Korin went to Edo in 1704 to be with Kuranosuke NAKAMURA, who was assigned to a post in Edo. Korin was still experiencing financial difficulty at this time. In Edo, he received assistance from the Sakai family, head of the Himeji clan, and also had a connection to the Tsugaru clan, as well as wealthy merchants such as Mitsui, Sumitomo and Fuyuki (merchant in Edo, Fukagawa) families. Fuyuki Kosode kimono (Tokyo National Museum collection), of which Akikusa Monyo (pattern based on flowering plants of autumn) was hand painted by Korin, has been handed down for generations in the Fuyuki family, and the Red and White Plum Blossoms folding screen (MOA Museum of Art Collection) has been handed down in the Tsugaru family.

Korin lived in Edo for about 5 years before returning to Kyoto in 1709. In 1711, he moved to Shinmachi-dori, Nijo-kudaru (East of Nijo Castle) and continued his creative work. There are documents related to this residence such as the original floor plan, and this residence was reconstructed at the MOA Museum of Art site in Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture. One of Korin's famous works the Red and White Plum Blossoms folding screen is considered a late work and created in his studio on the second floor of this residence.

In 1713, 3 years before his death, he wrote a letter (or a will) to his oldest son, Juichiro, which stated, "No family business to pursue." This letter suggests that Korin did not consider his art work a family business, and because there was no established business to leave to his son, he had decided to send Juichiro to another merchant family to be adopted.

Konishi family documents

There exists a large volume of documents and data regarding Korin and the Kariganeya within the Konishi family, into which Juichiro was adopted. These documents are designated important cultural property as the 'documents related to Korin Ogata' (some are in the collection of the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, and some maintained in the Agency for Cultural Affairs). Included in this collection are wills written by Korin and Korin's father, Soken, Korin's sketchbook Choju Shaseicho (Sketchbook of birds and animals), other sketches, and a collection of designs, which are important data in the study of Korin's life and work. Among the sketches are sketches of beautiful women-- a rare form of work by Korin.

Art work

Most of Korin's works do not show a definite date and the dates of most of his works are inferred from the signatures and seals on the works.

Sotatsu TAWARAYA, whose date of birth and death are unknown, is admired as much as Korin; but there seems to have been no teacher-student relationship between them. However, some of Korin's paintings, such as the Fujin Raijin-zu (Wind God and Thunder God Screen) and Maki Kaede-zu (picture of Chinese black pine and maple trees), are based on Sotatsu's original drawing, and there is no doubt that Korin had consciously learned from Sotatsu.

Kakitsubata-zu six panel fold screen, Nezu Museum (National Treasure)
Portrait of Kuranosuke NAKAMURA, The Museum Yamatobunkakan, 1704 (Important Cultural Property)
Taikobo-zu (picture of an angler), Kyoto National Museum (Important Cultural Property)
Shiki Soka-zukan (flowers of the four seasons), private collection 1705
Hato-zu (Rough Waves, one of the two panel screen), The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Yatsuhashi-zu (Eight-Planked Bridge, six panel fold screen), The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fujin Raijin-zu (Wind God and Thunder God Screens, two panel screen), Tokyo National Museum (Important Cultural Property) - Work copying the work of Sotatsu TAWARAYA

Natsugusa-zu (picture of flowering plants of summer, two panel screen), Nezu Museum
Kujaku Kika-zu (picture of peacock and sunflower, two panel screen), private collection (Important Cultural Property)
Maki Kaede-zu (picture of Chinese black pine and maple trees, one of six fold screen), The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, (Important Cultural Property)
Gunkaku-zu (picture of cranes, six panel fold screen, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Tsutsuji-zu (Azalea), Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art (Important Cultural Property)
Chikubai-zu (picture of bamboo and plum, one of two panel screen, ink drawing), Tokyo National Museum (Important Cultural Property)
Yuima-zu (picture of a Buddhist layman named Yuima, ink drawing), private collection (Important Cultural Property)
Akikonomu Chugu-zu (picture of Empress Akikonomu), MOA Museum of Art
Red and White Plum Blossoms (six panel folding screen), MOA Museum of Art (National Treasure)
Yatsuhashi Makie Raden Suzuribako (Writing Box with Eight Bridges), Tokyo National Museum (National Treasure)
Akikusa Kakie Kosode (Kosode kimono with design of flowering plants of autumn), Tokyo National Museum (Important Cutlural Property)
Jurozu Rokkaku sara (Hexagonal plate with longevity character design, pottery by Kenzan OGATA and drawing by Korin OGATA), Okura Shukokan Museum, (Important Cutlural Property)

It has long been believed that the kinji (gold background) of the Red and White Plum Blossoms was created through the application of gold foil; however, examination using fluorescence X-ray by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo from 2003 to 2004 revealed that gold foil was not used. In reality, this golden background was an effect obtained by kindei (gold paint). He dissolved kinpun (gold dust) in nikawa (glue) for the gold background and he drew in joint lines to make the viewers think gold foils had been used.