The two paintings are unified pictorially in very subtle fashion, with the rising diagonal of the left-hand work crossing the falling diagonal of its mate just at the point where trees and a tori gate define the horizontal axes of the pictures. In this very stylized approach to painting, the figures appear as if actors, posed with exquisite care within a stage setting composed of few but very telling pictorial props. These stylistic characteristics are associated with the Fukko or Neo Yamato-e movement begun by Tanaka Totsugen (1790-1859) and Ukita Ikkei (1795-1859) and then developed to great effect by the present master, Okada Tamechika (1823-1864).
The subjects of both the paintings here were drawn from the long tradition of courtly waka poetry. On the left appears Fujiwara Kinto wearing a black official robe and carrying a snow-covered branch of red blossoming plum and a fan as he returns to the palace, his head uplifted as he composes a poem in response to a request from Emperor Murakami (926-967). On the right is Fujiwara Toshiyuki with brush and paper in hand gazing across the Kamo River as he composes a waka poem in honor of the first Kamo Festival. His young attendant, wearing a gorgeous robe with paulownia and bamboo design and hat decorated with a branch of blossoming cherry, is a dancer dedicated to the Kamo Shrine. The aristocratic and ultra-refined nature of these subjects as well as their courtly style are most characteristic of Tamechika, a fervent monarchist throughout his life who supported the restoration of the imperial court in opposition to the Bakufu in Edo.
Tamechika’s extant paintings testify to great technical skills, an intimate knowledge of earlier styles, and an extremely developed aesthetic sensibility that appeals to both mind and heart, with the staged compositions pulsating with restrained and disciplined emotion. The present pair of paintings, created before 1850 and during a period of intense study and concentration, are superlative works from the hand of a true master.