Tanaka Yûbi was a prominent Nihonga painter of the Meiji through early Shôwa periods. He is perhaps best known for a pair of series of handscroll paintings depicting the lives and accomplishments of Sanjô Sanetomi and Iwakura Tomomi, and for another set of handscrolls depicting the funeral of the Meiji Emperor (「御大葬之図」). All of these remain in the Imperial Collections today.
Born and raised in Yamashiro province, Yûbi studied yamato-e under Reizei Tamechika in Kyoto, and came into the service of the Imperial Court through his apprenticeship to his cousin Okada Tamechika, becoming a playmate for the young Meiji Emperor. He was officially named Imperial court painter in 1884.
The series of 21 scroll paintings depicting the events and accomplishments of Iwakura Tomomi's life were commissioned the Court around 1890, following Iwakura's death in 1883. They were never completed, however, and survive only in an unfinished, preparatory form. Yûbi's 24-scroll Sanjô Sanetomi series, by contrast, commissioned by the Court in 1900, was completed on lavish gold-flecked paper, with introductions on each scroll in elegant calligraphy accompanied by sketches of flowering or fruiting tree branches. On both of these sets, Yûbi employed bold, deep Nihonga colors; while the Iwakura scrolls, perhaps because of their preparatory nature, leave much of the background space empty, as in earlier, more traditional-style yamato-e painting, the Sanjô scrolls incorporate thoroughly filled-in background scenes. The Iwakura and Sanjô scrolls were first displayed for the public in a brief two-month exhibition in July through September 2014.
Tanaka did two further prominent commissions for the Court of a similar type. One was a set of fifteen scrolls, commissioned in 1904, depicting the accomplishments and events of the life of Sanjô Sanetsumu (1802-1859), father of Sanetomi. These scrolls include depictions of, among many other events, the destruction of the Kyoto Imperial Palace in an 1854 fire, its reconstruction, and the signing of the Harris Treaty in 1858.
Tanaka's final Imperial commission was a set of four scrolls depicting the funeral procession of the Meiji Emperor. Completed in 1913, just one year after the Emperor's death, these images also include depictions of the funeral train which carried the Emperor's body from Tokyo to Kyoto.
Tanaka died on 1933/2/20.
His eldest son Tanaka Shinbi (1875-1975) was an art historian who is most known for his research on, and hand-painted reproductions of, Heian period emaki (handscrolls) depicting scenes from the Tale of Genji and Tale of the Heike.
- Gallery labels, "The two people who supported Emperor Meiji - Sanjo Sanetomi and Iwakura Tomomi - an account of the late Edo period to the Meiji Restoration in biographical picture scrolls," The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shôzôkan, September 2014.
- "Tanaka Yûbi," Nihon jinmei daijiten, Kodansha, 2009.
- Pamphlets, "The two people who supported Emperor Meiji - Sanjo Sanetomi and Iwakura Tomomi - an account of the late Edo period to the Meiji Restoration in biographical picture scrolls," The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shôzôkan, September 2014.
- "Tanaka Shinbi," Nihon jinmei daijiten, Kodansha, 2009.