Okada Hanko was a well-known member of Kyoto’s Nanga (Bunjinga) school (active sixteenth to nineteenth century) of literati painting in the Edo period (1615–1868). A group of artists who had developed a strong affinity for Chinese painting ideals and intellectual tastes in the arts, the Nanga school also drew upon a diverse ensemble of literati traditions for inspiration. Nanga paintings embrace a fusion of Chinese and Japanese subject matter, techniques, and styles.
This painting illustrates Okada’s interest in the lively folk traditions of Japan. Using the narrow format of the hanging scroll, he has depicted Ebisu, one of the traditional Seven Deities of Good Luck in Japan, carrying a fishing pole weighed down by an enormous sea bream. This is a frequently used image of Ebisu, a popular folk figure, who represents the virtues of hard work and is especially honored by those engaged in marine and commercial occupations. To articulate the composition, Okada has used a very quick, abbreviated technique. The ingenious, varying use of light and dark ink creates a whimsical and well-balanced composition that effectively captures the essence of the literati movement.