25. Ishi & Nyoi


Tomioka Tessai (Kyoto 1837-1924)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper, mounted on silk, tomobako
143.8 x 40 cm (217 x 55.8 cm)

Tomioka Tessai was one of the last great painters of the Chinese literati tradition in Japan. The son of a canonical clothing merchant, he studied Confucianism and Buddhist scriptures and National Studies (Kokugaku) ​​with Okuni Takamasa (1793-1871) who was an ardent supporter of the imperial restoration and Shinto pre-eminence. Simultaneously, Tessai taught poetry and Chinese classics, and frequents poet-nun Otagaki Rengetsu who introduced him to art.
With the restoration of the Emperor Meiji, and the birth of Shinto as the state religion, Tessai became an “official of the gods” (shinkan), first at the Isonokami-jingū (Nara) shrine, and then at the Ōtori-taisha (Osaka). He finally settled in Kyoto and spent most of his time studying and painting, becoming a figurehead of the nan-ga (literally “Southern painting”) pictorial movement, also called bunji-ga (“literati painting”). For over sixty years, Tessai did not stop painting, leaving between ten and twenty thousand works to posterity, including more than a thousand kept in the Kiyoshikôjin Seichô-ji temple (in what is now Hyōgo Prefecture).
In 1897, he founded the Association of Painting Literati of Japan (Nihon nan-ga kyōkai) and in 1917 was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts (Teishitsu gigei-in). Without ever abandoning the principles of Chinese painting, and combining calligraphy with landscape motifs or representing an element of nature, he introduced violent distortions which convey a feeling of great freedom in his work. This is the case in this powerful painting, which features an ornamental rock and a double reishi, the mushroom of immortality (lingzhi, in Chinese). As in most of Tessai’s works, these two motifs, cherished by Chinese and Japanese scholars, are accompanied by dedications.

Dedication on the box
I painted this in Taishō 4 (1915). I chose this lucky day to paint, and I represented a stone and applied my seals. I think that, being now 80 years old, I did not need to use technique to paint this painting. Tessai.”

Dedication on the painting
This stone has the solemnity of its own silence. Its shape is strange but it is as it should be. If we find the truth and if we feel in peace, all is well and we do not need a monument to celebrate longevity.”
Here, I put a poem by Geigenro according to Chinrōren. Taishō 4 March. Tessai
Geigenro (1593-1644) was a famous Chinese scholar and politician of the late Ming Dynasty. Chinrōren is another name for Wang Hui (1632-1717), one of the four most important Chinese painters of this period, called the Four Wang.