Man with maple tree branch
Tanzaku, Ink on paper
Poem by Otagaki Rengestu (1791-1875)
Picture:Wada Gesshin (1800-1870)
Signed: Rengestu 77 years old
Painting: 35.3 x 6.2 cm
Mounts: 155 x 30.6 cm
The poem says:
I snapped and brought
from the valley
Below Mount Takao
a swatch of brocade
The painting represents a man in a typical hat who is bringing a branch of a red maple tree with a child on his back. Takaoyama is a place in Kyoto famous for colored leaves. In this poem Rengetsu is comparing the beauty of the scenery of autumn- tinted maple leaves to Japanese brocade.
Rengestu’s collaborated in this work with her closest literati friend, the priest Wada Gozan, nows as Gesshin (Moon Mind, 800-1870) who invited her to spent her last years in a tea hut on the grounds of the Shinko-in temple where she deeply immersed herself in the study of Buddhism, continuing her artistic occupations.
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 gently, 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.