Sumi, color, gofun, and gold flecks on paper. In addition, this piece by Ōtagaki Rengetsu contains a unique woodblock print technique that utilizes gofun, a ground oyster shell treatment. As a result, the forest sprites featured in this piece are hidden to the viewer until viewed from the right perspective. The inscribed poem is done in the waka style and reads, “A twig broken is a sin, here at Togano’o… so permit me, some fallen leaves, O guardians of these autumn hills.”
Rengetsu is a unique and celebrated figure from Japanese 19th century history. Despite her reported great beauty and talent for the arts, she faced many personal tragedies in her life including being born an illegitimate child, the death of two husbands and all of her four children, and times of destitute poverty filled with hopelessness and despair. Scholars of her work believe these hardships allowed Rengetsu an unparalleled depth of humility and compassion, evident in the fine lines and heartfelt prose of so many of her art pieces.
*Above translation used with the kind permission of the Rengetsu Foundation Project.