A collaboration piece between the famed poet/ nun of the late Edo period Rengetsu and her younger protege Tessai, this scroll depicts a frightened cricket making his way to the top of a stalk of grass on a windy day. Set in the fall season, the viewer can imagine a message of frailty, loneliness, and possibly the feeling of trepidation that accompanies the turning of the seasons towards the colder months. Melancholy though it may seem at first glance, there is the deeper, more hopeful message of renewal that is sure to arrive with the spring thaws.
The poem reads:
Make your way little one, in the autumn wind, to the tips of pampas… Does the shaking make you cry? The voice of a bell cricket.
Tessai (1836-1924) is often referred to as the last great literati painter in Japan. Born in Kyoto, from a young age he was educated in Chinese philosophy and literature under the guidance of Okuni Tadamasa. Later he would be active as a Shinto priest, scholar and extremely prolific painter who would travel the countryside in search of new themes for his grand landscape paintings. Today he continues to be held in high regard for his unique stylistic form, frequent use of bold and contrasting colors, and for his monumental body of work which includes not only captivating Nanga depictions of picturesque landscapes (for which he is most well-know) but also of historical episodes, literary scenes, and religious imagery.
The poem that accompanies the artwork is by Ōtagaki Rengetsu. Rengetsu was born into a Samurai family but soon after adopted by the Ōtagaki family, from the age of seven to sixteen she was a lady in waiting at Kameoka castle where she was trained in the arts and courtly graces. Due to her rumored great beauty, she soon married but after the death of her husband in 1823, she joined the temple Chion-in and became a nun, taking Rengetsu (Lotus Moon) as her Buddhist name.
Rengetsu is widely regarded as one of the greatest waka poets of the 19th century. A skilled Shijo School painter, she was also an accomplished calligrapher and potter. She admired and studied under a number of great poets including Ozawa Roan and Ueda Akinari, and later in life became a close friend and mentor to Tomioka Tessai—later to become a great artist in his own right and the composer of the painting shown above.
Sumi and color on Japnanese paper with a silk border, this hanging scroll is 54 inches tall (137 cm) and 12.5 inches wide (32 cm). The artwork on the scroll is 25.5 inches tall (65 cm) and 11 inches wide (28 cm). In excellent antique condition, this piece comes double boxed with inscribed signatures and an official certification of authenticity.