The Thirty-six Poetic Immortals
Taishō period (1912–26)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Image: 50 7/8 x 19 15/16 in. (129.2 x 50.7 cm)
Overall with mounting: 87 1/4 x 25 7/8 in. (221.6 x 65.7 cm)
Overall with knobs: 87 1/4 x 28 1/4 in. (221.6 x 71.8 cm)
Not on view
This painting features aristocratic figures in poses familiar from early handscroll illustrations of classic court romances and tales of intrigue. They are in fact the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals, a popular subject that originated as early as the Heian period (794–1185). All the major Rinpa artists painted variations on the theme. Early images of the poets, famed for their talents in composing waka (poems of thirty-one syllables), appeared in handscroll format, where each was portrayed seated next to one of his or her best-known poems. They were often paired off in the scrolls as opponents in poetry matches. In this painting, the formal quality of the earlier presentations of the theme has been transformed—the figures crowd together to amble and chat along the riverbank as though they were part of a gathering of Chinese literati or Japanese haikai poets enjoying a free-spirited afternoon.