National TreasurePortrait of Takami Senseki

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  • 絹本淡彩鷹見泉石像
  • By Watanabe Kazan
  • 1 hanging scroll
  • Color on silk
  • 115.1×57.2
  • Edo period/Tenpou 8(1837)
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-9972

This work is considered the masterpiece among portrait paintings by Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841). Kazan was a retainer from the Tahara Domain in Mikawa (in present-day Aichi Prefecture) on duty in Edo (now Tokyo). While working to reform the shogunal government he was arrested, along with several other scholars of Dutch studies, during the so-called "Suppression of the Barbarian Studies Group" (J. bansha no goku). He was placed under house arrest in Tahara where, at the age of forty-nine, he committed suicide.

Kazan had studied painting first with Kaneko Kinryô (c. 1756-1817) and then with Kinryô's teacher, the renowned artist Tani Bunchô (1763-1840). He later incorporated principles of perspective and shading learned from Western art to create his own original style.

Takami Senseki (1785-1858) was a scholar of Dutch studies and a chief retainer of the Koga Domain (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture). In 1837, the feudal lord of Koga succeeded in quelling a rebellion led by Ôshio Heihachirô (1793-1837). In connection with this victory, Senseki paid a visit to Seigan-ji Temple in the Asakusa District of Edo as the lord's representative. There is a story that Kazan painted this portrait of Senseki dressed in formal robes and headgear at the time of this visit, when the artist was forty-five. The face is depicted in a realistic manner with subtle brushwork and delicate shading, while the robe is rendered in broader, more expressive brushstrokes.