This pair of screens by Ike Taiga, one of Japan’s most prominent literati painters, depicts two Chinese themes: the Orchid Pavilion Gathering on the right screen and, on the left screen, the Autumn Harvest Festival. A Tang-dynasty poem attributed to Wang Jia (born 851) and inscribed above in Taiga’s own calligraphy reads:
At the foot of Mount Ohu, the rice and millet are fat. Pigs are in their pens, the chickens in their coops; The door to the house has been left ajar. The Autumn Festival is over, and in the evening Mulberry leaves cast long shadows. from every house tipsy men return, holding each other up. —Trans. adapted from Stephen D. Allee
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池大雅筆 蘭亭曲水図屏風 秋社図屏風
Title:Orchid Pavilion Gathering; Autumn Harvest Festival
Artist:Ike Taiga (Japanese, 1723–1776)
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Medium:Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image (each): 63 1/4 in. × 11 ft. 8 3/16 in. (160.7 × 356 cm) Overall with mounting: 69 9/16 in. × 12 ft. 2 7/16 in. (176.7 × 372 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:2015.300.163.1, .2
These two screens are a study in contrasts of composition, mood, and narrative content. The screen on the right depicts a poetry gathering at Lanting, the Orchid Pavilion, on the third day of the third lunar month in the year 353 at Huiqi, Chekiang Province, southern China. The screen on the left shows a rustic country scene, the autumn festival after the harvest at the foot of Mount Ohu in Kiangsi Province.
The poetry contest at the Orchard Pavilion was immortalized for future generations of literati, both Chinese and Japanese, by the preface to the poems, which was written by the host of the gathering, Wang Xizhi (ca. 303–ca. 361). Wang, regarded as the greatest calligrapher of China, invited forty-one of his scholarly friends to an outing on the orchid-filled banks of a winding stream. The group composed poetry and drank wine from cups that had been set floating on the stream. Wang's preface to the forty-one poems is a sophisticated discourse on the meaning of life and death, past and present. According to tradition, the original text was the favorite possession of the Tang emperor Taizong and was interred with him when he died, in 649. The many copies that survived insured that the preface would be known and revered in years to come.
To the nanga artists of the Edo period, the gathering at the Orchid Pavilion was the epitome of a literati pastime. Of the many Japanese artists who painted the theme, Ike Taiga (1723–1776) is the most prominent, depicting it repeatedly on scrolls and screens, each time with a similar compositional scheme. A broad, winding stream dips low into the foreground at the lower right, boldly dividing the composition into near and far. Wang and his friends are shown seated inside the pavilion. (The man with a scroll spread before him on the table is most likely Wang himself.) Scholars and servants appear throughout the landscape, along the stream and in the great cavities of the rocks. Two children on the bridge at the left use long poles to try to catch the wine cups as they float on the water.
Taiga may have devised this composition originally for the small ema (votive plaque) at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. His inscription on the ema states that he painted it in 1754, at the request of ten citizens. The plaque is now badly damaged, but the painting can be studied from a preliminary drawing and an early-nineteenth- century woodcut copy.
The Burke screen, dated to about 1763, is the earliest known example in screen format to follow the composition of the ema. In the painting, verdant leaves heighten the freshness of rose-colored plum and peach blossoms on a day in early spring. The variety of brushstrokes used for the foliage—loops, stubby lines, and dots against the hemp-fiber texture strokes of rock surfaces—produces a vibrant, brocade effect. The screen, with its rich texture and color and complex composition, contrasts sharply with the screen at the left, which is executed with spare restraint.
The subject of Autumn Festival is a popular Chinese poem generally attributed to Wang Jia (b. 851) but sometimes to another Tang poet, Zhang Yan. The poem is inscribed by Taiga on the screen:
At the foot of Mount Ohu, the rice and millet are fat. Pigs are in their pens, chickens in their coops; The door to the house has been left ajar. The Autumn Festival is over, and in the evening Mulberry leaves cast long shadows. To every house tipsy men return, holding each other up.
The landscape of Autumn Festival is viewed from a farther distance than in the Orchid Pavilion. A mountain peak towers above a village in the center foreground, contrasting sharply with the lake on the right and the low-lying fields and hills beyond. Crisp autumn air permeates the scene. Pale ink dominates, punctuated by touches of dark ink for foliage and patches of red and green, hidden among the trees.
The Autumn Festival was another of Taiga's favorite subjects, but he did not usually include the poem. Like the Orchid Pavilion paintings, the Autumn Festival paintings are compositionally close. No doubt the theme was a popular one, as the poem appealed to many nanga artists.
The two screens are so different in style that scholars question whether they were originally intended as a pair. But Taiga may not have followed any particular formula when he matched two subjects on pairs of screens. He seldom repeated the same combination of themes, and he seems to have been more interested in creating contrasts than in adhering to stylistic or thematic coherence. Indeed, he may have been searching for a way to depart from the traditional formula for paired screens in an attempt to create a new scheme-a spacious scene complemented by a more compressed view.
Taiga is believed to have used as many as 115 seals, perhaps more. Three seals are impressed on these two screens. "Kashō " and "Ike Mumei in" on the Lanting screen, and "Taiga," "Ike Mumei in," and "Gyokkō Kōanri" on the Festival screen. "Kashō" and "Ike Mumei in" are the two seals most frequently used by Taiga. The latter calls for some explanation, as "Mumei" is sometimes read as "Arina." Taiga adopted this name in 1749 at the suggestion of his teacher, Gion Nankai (cat. no. 153). When Taiga met Nankai, he was still using his personal name "Tsutomu." Asked about his artistic name, Taiga replied that he had "no name" (mumei), upon which Nankai suggested that he use "Mumei." Taiga gave a humorous twist to the new name, pronouncing it "Arina" (Have Name).
The seal "Gyokkō Kōanri" comes from a verse by the Tang poet and official Yuan Zhen (779-831) and means "Official in Charge of the Jade Emperor's Incense Burner. Taiga's choice of this title for a seal reflects aspirations typical of sinophile artists of the nanga movement.
The years during which these seals were used can be roughly determined from the paintings on which they are impressed. "Kashō," "Ike Mumei in," and "Gyokkō Kōanri" are found on works dated, respectively, from 1763 to 1771, from 1759 to 1765, and from 1755 to 1766. These are consistent with the date of about 1763 for the Burke screens, arrived at independently through stylistic analysis.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Ch'en Chih-mai 1966, p. 62.  A six-fold screen almost identical to this work is in a private collection and is reproduced in Tōkyū Department Store 1972, p. 20; and Yoshizawa Chu 1986, pp. 33–35.  Yabumoto Kōzō 1974, p. 53·  Tanaka Ichimatsu et al. 1957–59, no. 241.  Translation after Stephen D. Allee. In the commonly used texts of this poem, the word pan, meaning "half," is given for the fourth character from the top on the second line from the right. Taiga, however, gives the word tui, which means "to oppose" or "to confront," suggesting that he may have used a corrupt text.  See, for example, Tanaka Ichimatsu 1917, p. 90.  Suzuki Susumu 1975, pp. 105–6; see also M. Takeuchi 1992, pp. 159–65, where thirty-seven seals are reproduced.  M. Takeuchi 1992, seal no. 16.  Ibid., seal no. 23.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
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