Hanging scroll, ink on paper
196 by 46 cm (mount 230 x 72.5)
The painting represents a slender willow, gently soaring from the left accompanied by a poem about the willow itself. The calligraphy is flowing elegant and refined, windingly written, as typical of Rengetsu’s style.
The poem reads:
Beneath green willows
in the waters flowing
the shadow and voice
of a spring warbler.
Poet, calligrapher, painter and potter, Otagaki Rengetsu was a Japanese Buddhist nun and one of the few prominent Japanese female artists. Daughter of unknown parents, she was adopted by a samurai family and spent her childhood at Kameoka Castle as a courtesan until the age of 16; during her stay, Otagaki excelled in waka poetry, a Japanese classical verse particularly popular among women during the Edo period. After an unfortunate stage of her life in which both her husbands and her three infant children died, she decided to change life radically and during the night in which her last husband passed away, she cut off her hair and made clear that she would never marry again: at the age of 33 she became a nun of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, taking the name “Rengetsu”, meaning Lotus Moon.
Despite the hardness of her life, she created a series of gentle, lyrical and highly sophisticated paintings, embellished with refined verses inscribed in a fine calligraphy. In her poetry, Rengestu celebrates what she experienced in her daily life, combining the spiritual with the tangible but rarely using direct Buddhist references.