Probably the best surviving example of a room in the

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Unformatted text preview: he Ogata family fortunes declined. Nevertheless, Kòrin was amply provided for during his youth and, by all accounts, became a true Genroku profligate, frequenting the pleasure quarters and pursuing a life of idleness and debauchery. Not until he ran out of funds sometime about 1693 and was forced to secure a loan from his younger brother Kenzan (1663–1743), who became a distinguished potter and painter in his own right, did Kòrin think seriously about the need to find permanent employment. He began by teaming up with Kenzan—in much the same way that Sòtatsu had teamed up with Kòetsu—and decorating a number of the fine ceramic pieces his brother produced. But although he did this and many other varied kinds of artwork, Kòrin, like Sòtatsu, achieved his greatest fame as a painter of folding screens. Kòrin was the last of the great decorative artists of early modern Japan and might be said to have brought the decorative style to its highest level of perfection. He much admired the painting of Sòtatsu and even copied a number of the earlier master’s work. But whereas Sòtatsu had based works such as the Genji Screen on familiar and easily recognizable themes, Kòrin’s best-known paintings are in a purely design-like and decorative manner. This is clearly observable in his Iris Screen, one of the most famous of all Japanese paintings. The screen was actually inspired by an episode from The Tales of Ise of the tenth century in which Narihira, who is having a wayside lunch near where some irises are growing, is challenged by a companion to compose a waka poem on “A Traveler’s Sentiments” and to use the syllables in the word “iris” (kakitsubata) to begin each of its five lines. Kòrin made no attempt to reproduce the narrative itself, but simply placed irises in “disembodied” fashion against a stark gold-leaf background. With their blue blossoms and green leaves providing a striking contrast to the dominant golden coloring of the screen, the flowers seem almost...
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