Photo/IllutrationCropped image of Tokugawa Iemitsu’s “Rooster” (Miki Morimoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Newly discovered brush paintings of roosters drawn by one of the most influential Tokugawa shogun and his heir will be displayed for the first time at the Fuchu Art Museum in western Tokyo from April 16.

The two ink brush paintings by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) and Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641-1680) will be part of an exhibition titled “Perverse Japanese Art: From Zen Paintings to Heta-uma” that opened in March.

Both paintings, titled “Rooster,” were drawn on traditional "washi" paper intended to serve as hanging scrolls.

Iemitsu was the third shogun in the Tokugawa dynasty (1603-1867). His depiction of the bird was executed with simple brushstrokes. The body is painted with thick and bold brushstrokes.

He drew thin lines to depict the rooster’s oversized round eyes and charmingly created a bird lifting one leg as it strutted around.

The painting, measuring 26.9 centimeters by 42.7 cm, was handed down over generations in a family descended from a senior retainer of the branch of the Tokugawa Shogunate based in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, and is currently owned by an individual.

Nobuhisa Kaneko, curator of the museum, learned about the painting stored in a box marked “drawn by Iemitsu,” and started researching its authenticity.

The painting of a rooster by Ietsuna, measuring 21.1 cm by 26.1 cm, was in the possession of Yogenji temple in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward.

The temple was built by an offspring of Kasuga no Tsubone (1579-1643), Iemitsu’s nurse who exerted great influence within the shogun’s court.

“Kogabiko,” a series of books documenting paintings created in the Edo Period, mentions that Ietsuna’s depiction of a rooster was donated to the temple by a relative of Kasuga no Tsubone.

Ietsuna, who became the fourth shogun at the age of 11, is believed to have witnessed cockfighting many times from his early childhood. He left many depictions of roosters.

Ietsuna used different shades and various levels of pressure on the brush to depict a particularly sharp-eyed rooster.

Like his father's depiction, Iemitsu's bird had cute feet.

"Both father and son had the basics of painting taught to them at court by a painter from the renowned Kano school, which is highly regarded for its exquisite style of painting," Kaneko said. "Yet, both men created uniquely creative paintings. I suspect they intentionally had a deceptively simple style."