Jakuchu: “an Eccentric Painter” who Skillfully Fused Reality and Imagination

Ito JakuchuItō Jakuchū (伊藤 若冲, 1716-1800) was an eccentric Japanese painter of the mid-Edo period when Japan had closed its doors to the outside world. Many of his paintings concern traditionally Japanese subjects, particularly chickens and other birds. Many of his otherwise traditional works display a great degree of experimentation with perspective, and with other very modern stylistic elements.

Itō Jakuchū was the eldest son of Itō Genzaemon, a Kyoto grocer whose shop, called Masuya, lay in the center of downtown, in the Nishiki food district. Jakuchū ran the shop from the time of his father’s death in 1739 until 1755, when he turned it over to one of his brothers.
His training in paintings was mostly derived from inspirations from nature and from examining Chinese paintings at Zen temples. Some sources indicate that he may have studied with Ōoka Shunboku, an Osaka-based artist known for his bird and flower paintings. Though a number of his paintings depict exotic or fantastic creatures, such as tigers and phoenixes, it is evident from the detail and lifelike appearance of his paintings of chickens and other animals that he based his work on actual observation.

Well-known and well-reputed in the Kyoto art community, Jakuchū received many commissions for screen paintings, and was at one time featured above a number of other notable artists in the Record of Heian Notables (平安人物誌, Heian jinbutsu-shi). In addition to personal commissions, Jakuchū was also commissioned to paint panels or screens for many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines across Japan, including the very famous and important Rokuon-ji (the monastery which includes the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion on its grounds).

Despite his individualism and involvement in the scholarly and artistic community of Kyoto, Jakuchū was always strongly religious, and retired towards the end of his life to Sekihō-ji, a Mampuku-ji branch temple on the southern outskirts of Kyoto. There, he gathered a number of followers, and continued to paint until his death at the age of eighty-five.

The Best Work

Colorful Realm of Living Beings (Dōshoku sai-e, 動植綵絵)

One of his most ambitious endeavors, and therefore most famous works, is known as “Colorful Realm of Living Beings” (Dōshoku sai-e, 動植綵絵). Begun around 1757 and not finished until 1765, the Pictures are a set of thirty hanging scrolls created as a personal offering to the Shōkoku-ji temple. They depict a number of animal subjects in monumental scale and with an according degree of detail.

Roosters (Gunkei-zu, 群鶏図)


Rōsyō hakuhō-zu (Rōsyō hakuhō zu, 老松白鳳図)

Jakuchu-Rousyou hakuho-zu

Chrysanthemums by a Stream with Rocks (Kikka ryûsui zu, 菊花流水図)

Jakuchu-Chrysanthemums by a stream with rocks

Peonies and Butterflies (Syakuyaku guntyō zu, 芍薬群蝶図)

Jakuchu-Peonies and Butterflies

Plum Blossoms and Cranes (Huyō soukei zu, 芙蓉双鶏図)

Jakuchu-Plum Blossoms and Cranes

Maple Tree and Small Birds (Kōyō syōkin-zu, 紅葉小禽図)

Jakuchu-Kouyo syokin-zu

Edo Period, about 1757-1766
TYPE: hanging scrolls, color on silk
DIMENSIONS: 141.8 – 142.9 × 79.0 – 79.8 cm
Collection of The Imperial Household Agency

Flowers, Birds and Animals (Jyuka chôjû zu byôbu, 樹花鳥獣図屏風)

Gorgeous world of birds and beasts, unfolded by a unprecedented method of drawing a picture, from familiar creatures to holy animals (kylin, such as Phoenix). Works by originality Jakuchu who uses the technique of mosaic (like pointillism), so-called “draw squares (Masume gaki, 枡目描き)”.
Jakuchu- Flowers, Birds and Animals -rightJakuchu- Flowers, Birds and Animals -left

Edo Period
TYPE: Six-fold screen
DIMENSIONS: Right) 137.5 x 355.6 cm, Left) 137.5 x 366.2 cm
Collection of Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art

Rooster and Hen with Hydrangeas (Ajisai soukei zu, 紫陽花双鶏図)

Jakuchu- Rooster, Hen, and HydrangeasEdo period, 18th century
TYPE: hanging scrolls, color on silk
DIMENSIONS: 140.0 x 85.0 cm
Etsuko and Joe Price Collection

Elephant and Whale (Zô to kujira zu byôbu, 象と鯨図屏風)

Idea that elephant was sitting on the beach has been summoned whale at sea.
Jakuchu- Elephant and Whale -rightJakuchu- Elephant and Whale -leftEdo Period, 1795
TYPE: Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink on paper
DIMENSIONS: 159.4 x 354 cm
Collection of MIHO MUSEUM

White Elephant and Animals (Byakuzō gunjû zu, 白象群獣図)

Jakuchu- White Elephant and AnimalsEdo Period

Wall painting in Osho-in Room of Rokuon-ji Temple (Rokuon-ji daisyoin syouheki-ga, 鹿苑寺大書院障壁画)

50 Wall painting in Osho-in Room of Rokuon-ji Temple (Rokuon-ji Temple is commonly known as Kinkaku-ji Temple).

Budō Syōkin-zu(葡萄小禽図)


Syōkaku-zu Fusuma-e(松鶴図 襖絵)

jakuchu_shokakuzu_ajakuchu_shokakuzu_bEdo period, 1757
Collection of Jotenkaku Museum
Important Cultural Property of Japan

Cactus and Roosters (Saboten gunkei zu fusuma, 仙人掌群鶏図襖)

Ito Jakuchu- Cactus and RoostersEdo Period, about 1789
Collection of Saifuku-ji Temple
Important Cultural Property of Japan

Tiger (Tora zu, 虎図)

Tiger by JakuchuEdo Period, 1755
TYPE: hanging scrolls, color on silk
DIMENSIONS: 129.7 x 71.0 cm
Etsuko and Joe Price Collection

Tiger (Tora zu, 虎図)

Tiger by Jakuchu in Sekiho-jiEdo period, 18th century
DIMENSIONS: 112.0×56.6 cm
Collection of Sekiho-ji Temple (Kyoto)

One Hundred Dogs (Hyakken zu, 百犬図)

Jakuchu- One Hundred DogsEdo Period, 1799

Eccentric Painters

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