This was the graduation work of Yokoyama Taikan, a member of the first class to graduate from the Nihonga (Japanese style painting) course of the Tokyo Fine Arts School. Painted during a time when many artists turned to beautiful scenes of nature, history, and Buddhist anecdotes for their subject-matter, it is a rare masterpiece with a light and easy air.
The fruit of much hard work, this painting contains a profusion of images–an old man, eleven children, a cow, a monkey, verdant trees, dead trees, a fallen tree, flowers and plants, bamboo grass, and mounds of earth, for example. In regard to the title, Taikan explained: “In that work I was comparing the old monkey trainer to our teacher Hashimoto-sensei. To paint the eleven village children, I imagined how my eleven classmates might have looked when they were young” (Taikan gadan [Conversation with Taikan on the subject of painting], p. 30). The focus of the picture, however, is the red-suited monkey riding a black cow, set against a wide open space. Such a composition has caused this work to be interpreted in various ways–somethig which we, however, will leave to the viewer’s imagination. The instructors in charge of painting during the early days of the Tokyo Fine Arts School included Hashimoto Gaho, who was a member of the Kano School, Kawabata Gyokusho, who continued the tradition of the Maruyama School, and Kose Shoseki, who followed in the line of yamato-e artists. The work shown here does not lean toward any particular school but consolidates or blends them all, while at the same time incorporating spatial depth like that found in Western painting. It embodies the new ideas promoted by Okakura Tenshin and demonstrates vividly why Yokoyama Taikan is considered the leading figure in modern Japanese style painting. (Writer : Masato Satsuma Source : Selected Masterpieces from The University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music: Grand Opening Exhibition, The University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, 1999)