Hasegawa Tohaku

Hasegawa Tohaku
Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610) was a Japanese painter and founder of the Hasegawa school of Japanese painting during the Azuchi-Momoyama-era of Japanese history.

The man known today as Hasegawa Tohaku was born in 1539 in Nanao, a town in Noto Province (located in the vicinity of present-day Ishikawa prefectures) to a noted local family of cloth dyers, although evidence shows that Tohaku's original family name was Okumura and that he was adopted into the Hasegawa family.

Tohaku started his artistic career as a painter of Buddhist paintings in his home province of Noto. By the age of twenty Tohaku was a professional painter, and by his thirties, had moved to Kyoto to study under the prestigious Kano School, then headed by Kano Shoei. The Kano School was well known at the time for their large bold paintings that decorated the castle walls of many a wealthy warlord patron. These often ink on white paper or gold-leaf decorative wall panels served a dual purpose of reflecting light around the dim castle rooms as well as flaunting the castle owner's abundant wealth to commission such extravagant pieces. Many of Tohaku's earlier works with the Kano school, such as his Maple, Chishaku-in painted in 1593.

At the same time he also studied the older Sung, Yuan and Muromachi erasí styles of ink painting by examining scrolls from Mu Chi and Sesshu, which he is believed to have gained access to in his time at the Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. After a period of time in Kyoto, Tohaku developed his own style of Sumie which in many ways departed from the bold techniques indicative of the Kano School, and called back to the minimalism of its predecessors. The works of Sesshu in particular influenced Tohaku's redirection of artistic style as Tohaku also studied under Sesshu's successor, Toshun for some time. Tohaku was in fact so much enamored with the techniques of Sesshu that he attempted to claim rights as his fifth successor, though he lost in a court battle to Unkoku Togan. Still, the influence of Sesshu is evident in many of Tohaku's mid to late works, such as his famous Shorin-zu byobu, which were declared a national treasure of Japan are argued to be the first paintings of their scale to depict only pine trees as subject matter.

The school founded by Hasegawa ohaku is known today as the Hasegawa school. This school was small, consisting mostly of Tohaku and his sons. However small, its members conserved Tohaku's quiet and reserved aesthetic, which many attribute to the influence of Sesshu as well as his contemporary and friend, Sen-no Rikyu. It is suspected that these simple aesthetics protest the usage of intimidation and wealth rampant in the Kano School.

Tohaku's most noted contemporary was Kano Eitoku who often competed with Tohaku for the patronage of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After Eitoku's death in 1590, Tohaku stood alone as the greatest living master of his time. Becoming an official painter for Hideyoshi, producing some of his greatest and most elegant paintings. He and his atelier produced the wall and screen paintings in Shounji temple commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1593. The paintings moved to Chishaku-in Temple, Kyoto and survived. At the age of 67, Tohaku was summoned to Edo and granted the priestly title of hogen by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. There he stayed for the remainder of his life.