Suzuki Kiitsu: Standard-bearer of the Edo Rimpa School

September 10 to October 30

*There will be an exhibition change during the course of exhibition
*Download the list of changes in works on display.

The list of changes in works (PDF)

Introduction: The Beginning of Edo Rimpa

Rimpa was founded in Kyoto at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868) by Tawaraya Sotatsu (who as active in the first half of the seventeenth century) and was established as the most exuberant decorative style of Edo period painting by Ogata Korin (1658-1716).

Approximately one hundred years after Korin, it was Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) that attempted to revive Rimpa in Edo(present Tokyo) . Hoitsu was born in Edo as the second son of the Sakai family, feudal lord of Himeji in 1761 (Horeki 11). Having spent an affluent youth as a member of a prominent fudai daimyo family (heredity vassal of the Tokugawa), in 1797 (Kansei 9), at the age of thirty-seven by the traditional Japanese system, he left the Sakai family to become a Buddhist priest and spent the later part of his life as a painter.

Hoitsu acquired the Korin style on his own and endeavored to make it popular. Meanwhile, he also developed an appealing artistic style in which he brought out the strengths of the blank space and added realism. Here, a new trend which was later to be referred to as “Edo Rimpa” was brought forth.

This Introduction explores the breeding ground for Kiitsu’s paintings by presenting elegant works by Kiitsu’s teacher, Hoitsu, and by shedding light on Suzuki Reitan (1792-1817), who was Hoitsu’s first pupil and also had close ties with Kiitsu.

1. A Talented Pupil of Hoitsu

Kiitsu is said to have been born in Nakabashi, Edo to a purple dyer from the Omi province in 1796 (Kansei 8). However, it has recently been pointed out that he may have been born to a samurai household. Consequently, his origins are unclear. In 1813 (Bunka 10), at eighteen years of age by the traditional Japanese system, he became a pupil of Hoitsu. Four years later, following the sudden death of Suzuki Reitan, an elder pupil and a vassal of the Sakai family, Kiitsu married Reitan’s elder sister (or younger sister according to Kiyohikan) and succeeded Reitan as the head of the Suzuki family.
In those days, many pupils gathered to study art at Hoitsu’s retreat, Ugean, in Shitaya Negishi. Hoitsu had great trust in Kiitsu from early on and seems to have delegated many important tasks to Kiitsu. The teacher and pupil often produced works in collaboration. As Hoitsu’s best pupil, Kiitsu was closest to him.
Chapter One focuses on the works Kiitsu produced while he was studying under Hoitsu. These early works not only include flowing, beautiful pictures of flowers and birds in a style Kiitsu inherited from Hoitsu but also demonstrate the germination of the bold, powerful style which was to blossom later. They also show that Kiitsu was already working on an extensive range of subjects. Kiitsu’s encounter with Hoitsu and the establishment of their intimate teacher-pupil relationship proved a significant foothold.

2. The Establishment of the Kiitsu Style

When Kiitsu was thirty-three by the traditional Japanese system, in 1828 (Bunsei 11), his teacher, Hoitsu, died and Kiitsu reached a critical turning point.

Hoitsu’s official successor was Sakai Oho (1808-41), his adopted son and inheritor of Ugean. While supporting Oho, who was twelve years younger than him, Kiitsu gradually broke away from Hoitsu’s artistic style and developed a style of his own. This tendency is notably recognizable during Kiitsu’s mid-thirties to mid-forties, when he liked using the pseudonym “Kaikai” for his signature or seal.

During this period, Kiitsu made a variety of experiments. Among them, works brimming conspicuously with vigor were those boldly arranged with Sotatsu and Korin’s style in mind.

Wind God and Thunder God was a subject that Rimpa artists were good at from Sotatsu’s time. Kiitsu depicted this theme on eight fusuma (sliding doors) and succeeded in rearranging it dynamically as a large picture. Conversely, in The Thirty-Six Poetic Geniuses and Japanese Cypresses, he condensed the thirty-six poetic geniuses, a standard theme in Rimpa painting, and cypresses as small-scale screens contrasting figures with woods and bright colors with varying shades of sumi ink.

By working enthusiastically on a lucid and vivid painterly style, Kiitsu managed to exceed Hoitsu’s and even Korin’s style and newly establish a Kiitsu style.

Wind God and Thunder God

Suzuki Kiitsu, Eight sliding door panels, Late Edo period (19th century), Tokyo Fuji Art Museum

©Tokyo Fuji Art Museum Image Archives/DNPartcom

【To be shown between Oct.5 and Oct.30】

Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn

Suzuki Kiitsu, Pair of six-fold screens, Late Edo period (19th century), Nezu Museum, Tokyo

【only in Suntory Museum of Art/ To be shown between Oct.5 and Oct.30】

Ducks by Water’s Edge

Suzuki Kiitsu, Six-fold screen, Late Edo period (19th century), Hosomi Museum, Kyoto

【To be shown between Sep.10 and Oct.3】

3. Dazzling Achievements

In his latter forties, Kiitsu handed over the headship of the family to his eldest son Shuitsu (1823-89) and from then on continued to attempt further diverse styles of painting. Throughout the fifteen or so years in his later years, during which he used the pseudonym “Seisei”, the energy in Kiitsu’s brushstrokes never remained still.

On the one hand, Kiitsu produced one after another works overwhelming with vivid colors such as Morning Glories (only in Suntory Museum of Art). On the other hand, he also busied himself pursuing realism as evident in Irises and Moth(only in Suntory Museum of Art) and Apple Tree. Works such as Magnolia with Long-tailed Fowl demonstrate both the Rimpa style and realism and their fresh style seem to foretell modern nihonga (Japanese-style painting).

Kiitsu died aged sixty-three by the traditional Japanese system on September 10th, 1858 (Ansei 5). In his later years, he was favored by the daimyo families and wealthy merchants and wielded his paintbrush as he pleased. Amidst the commotion in Edo towards the closing days of the Tokugawa regime, the role Kiitsu played was dazzlingly active to the very end and he continued to enchant people.

Morning Glories

Suzuki Kiitsu, Pair of six-panel folding screens, Late Edo period (19th century), The Metropolitan Museum of Art
©The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY
[only in Suntory Museum of Art/ to be shown over an entire period]


Suzuki Kiitsu, Hanging scroll
Late Edo period (19th century)
Hosomi Museum, Kyoto
【To be shown between Sep.10 and Oct.3】

4. The Development of the Kiitsu School and Edo Rimpa

Hoitsu had many pupils and Kiitsu worked hard to hone his skills improving together through friendly rivaly. Kiitsu himself also put a lot of effort into training his pupils and built up the largest faction among the Edo Rimpa artists fit to be called the Kiitsu school. Edo Rimpa continued to exist after the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the Kiitsu school contributed significantly to this succession.

Works by Hoitsu and Kiitsu were frequently referred to in Natsume Soseki’s novels and were already acclaimed in the Meiji period (1868-1912) as masterpieces conveying the aesthetic senses of people living in Edo. Endeavoring to convey traces of their predecessors, the successors of Edo Rimpa adapted appropriately to the modern society and remained in existence until the mid-Showa period.

In Chapter Four, works by artists of the Kiitsu School, namely Shuitsu, Ichikawa Kiyu, Nakano Kimei and Kigyoku (father and son), who studied under Kiitsu and continued to convey the charm of Kiitsu in the Meiji period, are shown along with works by artists in the periphery such as Sakai Oho and Ikeda Koson, who studied under Hoitsu, to trace the evolution of Edo Rimpa into modern times.