Ichikawa Beian

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A poem by Xie Chengju, in calligraphy by Beian. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.
  • Born: 1779
  • Died: 1858
  • Japanese: 市河米庵 (Ichikawa Beian)

Ichikawa Beian was a prominent calligrapher, collector, and scholar of the late Edo period. Considered one of the three greatest calligraphers of his time, he also amassed a collection of over one thousand paintings, works of calligraphy, antiquities, rubbings, and the like, from both China and Japan.

Beian was a grandson of calligrapher Ichikawa Randai, who had studied under Hosoi Kôtaku. His father was Randai's son Ichikawa Kansai, a head of the Shôheizaka gakumonjo. Beian studied under his father as well as under Shibano Ritsuzan, becoming expert at Japanese calligraphy but ultimately finding a far greater passion for Chinese calligraphy.

In 1848, Beian organized the publication of a catalog of a selection of his collection. Entitled Shôzanrindô shoga bunbô zuroku ("Illustrated Catalog of Calligraphy, Paintings, and Stationery from the Shôzanrindô Collection"), the catalog included not only reproductions of roughly 260 works from Beian's collection, but also descriptions of each object, including media, dimensions, method of acquisition, and artists' notes.

Late in life, Beian is known to have suffered from a prominent goiter. That this goiter appears in a famous portrait of Beian by his contemporary Watanabe Kazan is an oft-cited example indicating the attention Kazan paid to a certain degree of realism in his work (in contrast to presenting a more fully idealized representation of his subjects).

Beian donated a number of works to the Yushima Seidô, and following his death, much of the rest of his collection was similarly split up. However, his son, Ichikawa Sanken, reacquired most of the collection and donated them to the Tokyo Imperial Museum in 1900; Beian's grandson, Ichikawa Santei, later reacquired the objects donated to the Yushima Seidô, giving these as well to the Imperial Museum. These donations represent the beginning of the museum's Chinese paintings and calligraphy collections.


  • Gallery labels at Tokyo National Museum, exhibit of Chinese calligraphy and painting, Tôyôkan, August 2013.