Tokuyama Gyokuran, familial backgrounds, and the influence of the husband

 

Tokuyama (Ike) Gyokuran (1727/28–1784) was originally birthed into the artistic sphere through her mother and grandmother’s interest in waka poetry. Nicknamed the “Three Women of Gion,”[1] this triad lived together in Kyoto, where they worked in their own teashop while maintaining their careers as poets, and in Gyokuran’s case, a career as a writer and artist. Despite living in an era when      “women’s position was extremely restricted, Kaji, Yuri, and Gyokuran maintained their personal and artistic independence.”[2] Interestingly, much of what we know about Gyokuran’s mother, Yuri, is information collected and described by Rai San’yō (1780-1832), the mentor of Ema Saikō (1787-1861). Less interested in the emotional and romantic motifs as seen in her mother and grandmother’s poetry, Gyokuran turned her fascinations to painting, under the instruction of Yanagisawa Kien. Gyokuran is significant as an example of a bunjinga (female literati), as her involvement with the art world was established in part from her husband’s role as an artist working in the Chinese literati tradition. As Fister notes, “Interest in the Chinese literati painting tradition was stimulated in Edo period Japan by the Tokugawa government’s promotion of Neo­Confucianism, which led to the study of many facets of Chinese culture;”[3]  this led to an influx of women artists influenced by Chinese literati. With a focus on landscapes and depictions of nature, Gyokuran’s skillful brushwork and subtle colours are characteristic of Edo painting techniques. An example of this could be her work, Summer Landscape (1770); variations in brushstroke create depth and detail, and the natural setting was a popular element in artwork at the time.

[1] Addiss 1990, p. 241.

[2] Addiss 1990, p. 241.

[3] Fister 1990, p. 237.

Tokuyama Gyokuran, Summer Landscape, 1770 [hanging scroll; ink and colours on paper].
Tokuyama Gyokuran, Summer Landscape, 1770 [hanging scroll; ink and colours on paper].