Ito Jakuchu was the eldest of the three so-called “eccentric” painters of the mid-Edo period. According to author Miyeko Murase, “his reputation as an eccentric seems to have been based on his tendency to combine incompatible elements in his paintings, such as realistically executed natural objects with brilliant colors and decorative abstractions.” In “brilliantly colorful works,” such as this polychrome woodblock print, he “juxtaposed realistic details against two-dimensional, decorative patterns.”
Jakuchu was influenced by the traditional Japanese and Chinese art he studied at the temple of Shokoku-ji, but also experimented with Western materials and perspective. He often painted from direct observation, favoring humble chickens, wildflowers and seashells to more lofty subjects, though cockatoos, parrots, and phoenixes do feature in some of his more famous works.
A devout Buddhist, he was known for trading quickly executed ink drawings for a to (about four gallons) of rice to subsidize the more sophisticated artwork he donated to Shokoku-ji. His art name of Jakuchu was taken from the Tao Te Ching, meaning “like the void.”