Kano Eitoku (1543-1590) was a Japanese painter of the Momoyama period. Working in the bold, colorful style typical of the decorative screen painting of the 16th century, he was the leading artist of his day and one of the most influential Japanese painters.

A member of the illustrious Kano family, Eitoku was born in Kyoto. He received his training under his father, Kano Shoei, and his grandfather, Kano Motonobu, who was the leading painter of the first half of the 16th century. Eitoku's first major work was the decoration of the Jukoin sanctuary at Daitokuji, a famous Kyoto Zen temple, a task he undertook with his father in 1566. Eitoku's fame soon spread, and he became the favorite artist of Oda Nobunaga, the military dictator of Japan, who gave him several commissions. Among those were a set of screens depicting the city of Kyoto and the decoration of Nobunaga's splendid castle at Azuchi on Lake Biwa.

After Nobunaga died in 1582, his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, continued to patronize Eitoku. Among the many outstanding works he produced for Hideyoshi, the most ambitious were the paintings for the castle in Osaka and the Juraku palace in Kyoto, which Eitoku undertook in 1587. Assisted by a large team of collaborators, he produced hundreds of wall paintings, sliding screens, and folding screens, which for sheer magnificence surpassed anything seen in Japan up to that time.

None of the castles and palaces built by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi has survived, so that the works which made Eitoku famous have largely perished. However, there are several sets of screens which give a good idea of his style. Among the most remarkable are a six-fold screen representing a kind of Japanese cedar called hinoki (National Museum, Tokyo), a huge screen depicting lions (Imperial collection), and a pair of six-part screens showing hawks and pines (Tokyo University of Arts). All these pictures are painted in the same bold style, using powerful brushstrokes, large forms, brilliant colors, and gold leaf, and emphasizing flat decorative patterns rather than realistic representation. It is this type of painting for which Eitoku is famous and which is the most characteristic expression of the Momoyama period.

While works of this type were generally displayed in the public rooms of the palaces and castles, monochrome ink painting continued to be used for the private apartments. Good examples of Eitoku's work in this medium are the 16 sliding screen paintings, or fusuma, which the artist executed early in his career for the Jukoin in Kyoto. The subjects represented—such as birds and flowers in a landscape setting and the "Four Accomplishments"—are Chinese in origin, and the monochrome ink style is derived from Chinese sources through his grandfather, Kano Motonobu. Yet the way in which Eitoku handled his brush with broad, vigorous strokes, stressing pattern rather than space, is very different from the earlier painting of either the Chinese or the Japanese, showing the artist's originality.

Further Reading on Kano Eitoku

Kano Eitoku's work is discussed in Pageant of Japanese Art, vol. 2:Painting (1952), edited by staff members of the Tokyo National Museum; Robert Treat Paine and Alexander Soper, The Art and Architecture of Japan (1955; rev. ed. 1960); and Terukazu Akiyama, Japanese Painting (1961).

Additional Biography Sources

Kano, Eitoku, Kano Eitoku, Tokyo; New York: Kodansha International, 1977.