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Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎

“Fish Market”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper
85.9 x 57.5 cm. (33 7/8 x 22 5/8 in.)

Ken Kon (the trigrams for Heaven and Earth). (The Emperor Shen Nong) established a market at noon, causing all the people beneath the heavens to gather all the goods beneath the heavens and exchange them before returning home, each having achieved their goals. This must have been done on the basis of the trigrams shi-shi.
This occurs in the chapter jici of the Yiqing (“Book of Changes”). Note: Shen Nong taught the people living along the rivers and on the seacoast to catch fish and turtles, and he taught woodcutters in the mountains and valleys to gather firewood, and then to exchange these for what they have not. This, then, was the origin of markets. Tetsu-gai.”

Artist’s seals: two

Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924) was the last great proponent of the Nanga literati style. He was born in Kyoto, the son of a wealthy dealer in priests’ robes. When the family fortunes declined, Tessai was sent to live at the Rokuson’o Shrine, where he studied Shinto as well as Buddhism, Confucianism, and classical Japanese literature. Although intending to become a scholar, by the mid 1820s Tessai also began painting. The most important early influence came from Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875), a talented poet-nun who hired Tessai as a personal assistant for her ceramic endeavors and later promoted him to writing her calligraphic compositions on the wares. Basically, Tessai was self-taught as an artist, using the various classic and contemporary styles he came across to form his own, very idiosyncratic style.

Associated with those working for the imperial Restoration, Tessai fled to Nagasaki in 1859 in order to escape arrest and while there began serious study of Nanga painting. Enormously prolific, the “Picasso of the East,” Tessai largely portrayed subjects taken from Chinese and Japanese classical literature and legend. His style was very individual, with strong and expressive brushwork and color applied in a free and bold fashion. The element of humor is often important in his paintings, and the effect, as here, is extremely engaging.



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