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9.9: Kano School (Late 15th century – 1868)

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  • According to Japanese history, the Kano Art School was the most influential school of painting experiencing the longest tenure. Existing for more than 300 years, the Kano Art School influenced painters creating a broad range of styles, themes, and formats generally focused on Zen philosophy. The school was established and associated with Chinese painting styles using brushes, ink, and sparse use of colored pigments. The artists trained in family workshops similar to the European painters, developing their craft before being accepted into the Kano school.

    As the Kano school expanded, student artists started developing new styles adding color, pattern, and Japanese interests to the original style. The shoguns and emperors that ruled the country supported the artists, allowing them to flourish and create additional variations. The school grew with studios in many cities where artisans trained and worked together to support the samurai, aristocracy, and clergy. The decorative gold leaf on the panels and screens created by the artists, as reflected in the image of Chinese lions (9.39), helped to reflect light in the dark castles permitting the nobility to flaunt their wealth in limited natural lighting.

    Chinese Lions
    9.39 Chinese Lions

    Kano Eitoku (1543 – 1590) was one of the most influential leaders of the Kano School movement. His talent was recognized at an early age, and he grew up under the tutelage of his grandfather, who was influenced by Chinese painting. Eitoku was in high demand by the ruling and wealthy class and decorated many castles with painted sliding doors, walls, and standing screens. His main contribution to the Kano school was the "monumental style", with bold, quick brushwork seen in Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons (9.40), the emphasis on the foreground of significant figures or subjects. Unfortunately, most of his work was destroyed in later century wars.

    Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons
    9.40 Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons

    Hasegawa Tohaku (1539 – 1610) started painting Buddhist themed pictures and joined the Kano School to study. Many of his early works reflect the style of the school, but he also studied other periods, particularly ink paintings, as he painted Pine Trees (9.41), helping him develop his style different than the bold methods of the Kano School. Later in his life, Tohaku founded the Hasegawa school, a small institution dedicated to a more reserved style.

    A picture containing cabinet, indoor, furniture, wall
    9.41 Pine Trees