Poetry Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion (Lanting)

Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎 Japanese

Not on view

This tour-de-force of ink brushwork by Tomioka Tessai at first glance seems to present an imagined vision of the famous poetry gathering at the Orchid Pavilion (Lanting), which was organized and hosted by the renowned fourth-century Chinese poet-calligrapher Wang Xizhi in 353. Yet, inscriptions on the painting and storage box reveal that this painting commemorates a contemporary reenactment. In the upper left corner, the inscription by Tessai, in his distinctive brusque handwriting, gives the date, followed by a poetic phrase from Wang’s preface:

大正癸丑四月 恵風龢(和)暢
In the fourth month of the Kichū cyclical year [1913], a gentle breeze blows freely

According to the box inscription, this work was commissioned by the renowned historian and collector Naitō Konan and exhibited at a gathering in Kyoto to celebrate the twenty-six sexagenary cycle after Wang’s gathering (the original Lanting Gathering was also held in spring of a Kichū [Chinese: Guichou] cyclical year).

The ink landscape was painted in a bravura manner, using a dry brush technique to create rough textures for the rocks and bamboo, which were overlaid with ink washes, creating a compelling image. While commemorating a modern reenactment, the painting recreates the imagery of the original gathering. The invited guests, their faces painted in light red, adding coloristic highlights to an otherwise monochromatic landscape, sit along the banks of a stream, composed poems and drinking wine from cups floating on the water. Wang, accompanied by a young servant, sits in the Orchid Pavilion, brush in hand, writing the his celebrated draft preface to the poems composed on this occasion. His acquaintances are depicted as lively and engaged, some holding cups and others deep in thought as they contemplate the landscape or blank paper, waiting for inspiration.

The artist, Tomioka Tessai, was a Japanese painter and calligrapher who was one of the leading figures of the Bunjinga (文人画) literati painting style during the Meiji period. He received training in painting from previous generations of artists and is known as the last literati painter in Japan due to his deep cultivation of literature and art.

Poetry Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion (Lanting), Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎 (Japanese, 1836–1924), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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