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Rooster, Hen, and Chicks
late 18th, early 19th c

Kishi Ganku , (Japanese, 1749-1838)
Edo period

Ink and color on silk
W: 69.1 cm
Japan

Gift of Mr. James Freeman F2006.2a-d

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The subject of the rooster in Chinese and Japanese painting has traditionally implied serious content. Chinese Zen adepts likened the rooster’s alert and attentive anticipation of the dawn to the attitude of a devoted practitioner’s eager anticipation of enlightenment; the rooster’s crow was emblematic of the moment of satori (enlightenment). The rooster also was thought to embody the Five Virtues: martial spirit, literary accomplishment, loyalty, courage and virtue. The 18th century in particular witnessed a number of Japanese painters issuing quite spectacular renderings of these creatures. Most were complex studies in color and pattern; some were presented in ink monochrome. The painter Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) was the acknowledged master of the form. This scene of barnyard fowl painted by Kishi Ganku offers the artist’s characteristically jaded view of an icon held in high esteem. Gaku’s interpretation is of an elongated and threatening creature. The rooster’s neck feathering, in particular, is luxuriously rendered to the point of the surreal. The most telling episode in the composition is the feeding process; a hen passes a dragonfly to a ravenous chick. The dragonfly’s eyes imply horror and this brilliant, minuscule touch conveys Ganku’s skill at suggesting the darker side of the ostentatiously regal.