Watanabe Kazan - The High Gate of Lord Yu

This painting was the very first piece of work entered into the collection of the Fukuda Art Museum and it was designated as important cultural property in 1974.

The High Gate of Lord Yu (1841) by Watanabe KazanOriginal Source: Fukuda Art Museum, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841) was a samurai and a painter. He learned Western sciences and was placed in confinement in his hometown in 1840 for criticizing the conservative responses made by the shogunate to foreign countries. This work was created in his last year.

“The High Gate of Lord Yu” is a Chinese parable described in Volume 71, “Biography of Yu Dingguo” of the Book of the Former Han. Lord Yu, who served as Judiciary Scribe in a County and Head of the Bureau of Legal Decisions (Jue Cao) in a Commandery in the era of Han.

Yu was revered for making fair judgment in legal cases and esteemed as a person of high virtue. When the gate to his village needed to be restored, he instructed to rebuild a large gate, expecting that his descendants would advance in the world and prosper. This is a story painted.

A figure in purple clothes depicted at the lower right appears to be Lord Yu who is seemingly giving an instruction to his vassals. We can see that carpenters are actively working, and a western dog is running around.

The letter sent by Kazan to Tsubaki Chinzan (1801-1854), one of his disciples, reveals the fact that the painting was created by Kazan as a token of his gratitude to Nakajima Kaemon, an officer of town magistrate, for his conduct of fair tribunal.

Kazan was compelled by poverty to sell his paintings in order to make his living, but he heard a rumor of the shogunate reproaching that as a criminal, he had not behaved himself.

For fear of any trouble that may be caused to his local lord as a result of his behavior, Kazan committed suicide on October 11 in 1841 right after completing this painting.

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