A Giant Leap conveys the dramatic transformation of a painter from the provinces into one of Japan’s most important and beloved artists of the sixteenth-century. Owing to their rarity and in order to preserve their remarkable condition, the screens and scroll paintings will be displayed in two rotations, March 9—April 8, 2018 and April 12—May 6, 2018.
In 1964, art historian Tsugiyoshi Doi first proposed a theory that Hasegawa Tōhaku signed and sealed his work with a different name—Hasegawa Nobuharu—during his youth. The vast stylistic discrepancy between works bearing the name “Nobuharu” and those marked “Tōhaku” raised questions among scholars. For decades, no single painting could be identified as bridging the gap separating these oeuvres. Representing the left-hand screen of a pair (the whereabouts of its counterpart are unknown), Birds and Flowers of Spring and Summer is today considered the proverbial “missing link,” with tell-tale stylistic details revealing its unique position within the painter’s career.
Tōhaku has been the subject of renewed attention in recent years, including at the Kyoto National Museum and the Tokyo National Museum, where the 400th anniversary of the artist’s death was commemorated in an important 2010 survey exhibition. Raised in a family of cloth-dyers in Nanao, on the Sea of Japan coast in the Hokuriku region of Japan’s main island, Tōhaku began his career as a provincial painter of Buddhist paintings, working under the name “Nobuharu”. He later moved to Kyoto, the heart of late 16th-century Japanese politics and culture, where he studied Chinese and Japanese painting and accepted instruction from Kanō Shōei, head of the Kanō school, which supplied paintings to Japan’s leading samurai. In the 1580s, he appears to have begun using the name “Tōhaku,” a switch in nomenclature that coincided with a shift in his style. While producing painted screens covered in vast expanses of gold leaf, Tōhaku also began to demonstrate a mastery of sumi-e (ink painting) at this stage in his career.
By 1590, he had emerged as the leading painter of his day, founding his own school of painting—the Hasegawa school—consisting primarily of his own sons. Tōhaku became the favored painter for Sen no Rykyu and the powerful daimyō Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, at the turn of the 17th-century, he was summoned to the new capital of Edo by Hideyoshi’s successor, Tokugawa Ieyasu (founder of Tokugawa shogunate), where he remained briefly until his death.