- The Life and Afterlives of Hanabusa Itchō, Artist-Rebel of Edo by Miriam Wattles
Miriam Wattles’s stellar effort, The Life and Afterlives of Hanabusa Itchō, Artist-Rebel of Edo, while indeed a study of the painter Hanabusa Itchō (1652–1724) and his works, defies categorization as a straightforward artist monograph. Rather, it is a multifaceted investigation of the artist’s constructed persona and enduring renown over the course of two centuries. This book joins other recent contributions to the scholarly literature exploring the creation of an artistic identity within the public sphere, including Julie Nelson Davis’s Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008) and John Szostak’s Painting Circles: Tsuchida Bakusen and Nihonga Collectives in Early 20th-Century Japan (Leiden: Brill, 2013). These studies offer a means to examine the intersecting realms within the overarching world of Japanese visual culture at a particular historical period through an axial figure, an artist standing in the eye of the storm. In the case of Hanabusa Itchō, his life and afterlives facilitate the exploration of not just a selected set of his paintings, which can be variously classified as giga (playful images), ukiyo-e (in the style of the Kanō atelier), and fūzokuga (genre painting), but also the interconnected arenas of popular literature, Kabuki theater, popular songs, and poetry (haikai) of the artist’s times and beyond. Thus the book has an impressive interdisciplinary reach. Rich with translations of a multitude of texts, as well as thought-provoking analyses of visual evidence, The Life and Afterlives of Hanabusa Itchō ultimately explores celebrity—Itchō’s notoriety in Japanese society during and after his lifetime—and its impact on the reception of an artist’s work. In doing so, Wattles offers a nuanced interrogation of the discourse on Itchō from the late seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.
The question that naturally arises is why Itchō? At first glance, the artist hardly seems unique. Like Itchō, numerous painters in the early modern period, including Kusumi Morikage (ca. 1620–1690) and Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795), began their careers by training with the Kanō atelier only to go on to found their own independent studios. The Tokugawa government punished other artists besides Itchō for actual or purported transgressions. Like Itchō, Kaigetsudō Ando (ca. 1671–1743) was banished to an island because of his involvement in a scandal surrounding a woman of the shogun’s household. And yet it was Itchō’s painting style and eleven years spent in exile on Miyake island that remained in the public imagination for roughly two centuries. Explaining why that was the case, Wattles argues, requires an investigation of “copy” culture—how and for what reason Itchō’s works were imitated both during and after his lifetime—and the changing perceptions of authorship during the second half of the Tokugawa period. This latter concern is demonstrated by the growing interest in personalities, artistic and otherwise, evident at that time; for example, as W. Puck [End Page 301] Brecher notes, the artist perceived as mad nonetheless held a “strange allure” and “… for all the political and ideological efforts to eradicate it, nonconformity was continually vindicated by a vague admiration, an intuitive sense among a portion of Tokugawa society that deviance extends and actualizes human potential.”1 While Itchō was not considered an eccentric per se, the circumstances surrounding his exile certainly created an aura of defiant difference, which in turn informed not only his artistic persona, but also the reception of his works of art. Indeed as Wattles deftly demonstrates, the life and legacy of Hanabusa Itchō represented a “different kind of historical identity for an artist, one that went beyond the traditional construction of lineages” (p. 4). It is through the deconstruction of this identity that Wattles concurrently is able to examine other fertile domains of early modern Japanese society that valorized artists and writers, such as print culture, artistic exhibitions, and the art market.
The book is divided into two sections; the first addresses Itchō’s...