Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800)
Edo period, dated 1755
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk
This painting was produced in the summer of 1755, when Jakuchū, at the age of forty, made the tortured decision to turn over the responsibilities of his family's wholesale greengrocery business to his younger brother and pursue the life of painting.
The choice of subject is deeply informative of the artist's state of mind. Jakuchū was thoroughly imbued in the practice of Zen Buddhism, and his most important works were commissions for major temples. In Zen thinking, the tiger represents a natural power that can be controlled through enlightenment seeking discipline. In the act of grooming, the tiger suggests a self-intention to move beyond a conflicted mental state and toward a focus of energy.
In the inscription Jakuchū writes, "When painting a material phenomenon, I would not paint it but from truth. Because there are no ferocious tigers in Japan, I have imitated the painting of [Chinese Southern Song artist]
Mao Yi." That painting, in the collection of the Kyoto temple Shōden-ji, is now reckoned to be a Ming-dynasty work (1355-1644), but the passage speaks to Jakuchū's careful study and connoisseurship.