Kano Tanyu (1602-1674) was the most versatile and probably the most prolific of the seventeenth century Kano painters. Trained by Kano Koi, he was the son of Kano Takanobu and grandson of the great Eitoku. His best-known work may be the vast pine trees in Nijo Castle in Kyoto, very much in the bold and colourful Kano style. He was also, as the brother-in-law of Tosa Mitsuoki, very capable of painting in the formal Tosa style. In this Lot he is working in Chinese style for a Chinese subject depicting the 'four accomplishments' of calligraphy, painting, poetry and music, here practised by Chinese ladies and gentlemen in antique dress outside Chinese buildings and in a Chinese landscape, befitting such a serious subject. Tanyu, however, has not neglected the lighter side of even this classic scene as two boys have gone fishing.
In fact the subject matter seems not to be an old Chinese one, for it is rarely, if ever, depicted in Chinese painting and seems to have no poetic or literary origin in Chinese. It must be a Japanese extrapolation from the Chinese, when the Japanese literati and the Kano School of painters were looking to China for a notional classic background, as much based on the idea of an ideal but unreal view of China.
It was Tanyu who established the Edo branch of the Kano school, and he can probably be credited with the beginnings of the system whereby Kano painters could be 'placed' with the various Daimyo in their home towns by the leader of the School, rather than at the request (or demand) of the Daimyo concerned. He was a well-known critic and authenticator of both Kano school paintings and of Chinese old masters, and received many honours. Undoubtedly the most celebrated painter of his time, and teacher of, among others, his brothers Tsunenobu and Naonobu and of Kusumi Morikage.