In a most effective parody of connoisseurs examining antiquities, ten blind figures grope and unseeingly handle paintings, ceramics, bronzes and various scholarly implements. The “blindness” of course was not physical but rather intellectual and psychological, referring to those who claimed an expertise they had not earned, who had reputations they did not deserve, and who assumed in all arrogance that their judgments were always correct. In his inscription the artist of this charming work mentions a poem by the Chinese painter and calligrapher Zheng Xie (1693-1765), and the painting of a rock and bamboo on the screen within this painting is related to the style of Zheng.
Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924) can be held 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. Associated with those working for the Restoration, Tessai fled to Nagasaki in 1859 in order to escape arrest, and while there began serious study of Nanga painting. From 1872 to 1882 he served as a Shinto priest, and in 1896 organized the Nihon Nanga-kai, “Nanga Society of Japan.” Tessai became a member of the Art Committee of the Imperial Household and, in 1919, of the Imperial Fine Arts Academy.
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, as extremely attractive.
Taigadō Sadasuke (1839-1910) was the son of Taigadō Kiyosuke (1807-1869), who in turn was the son of Yamaoka Geppō (1760-1839), a pupil of Ike Taiga and successor, after Shukuya, of the Taigadō studio name.
1. See Laurance P. Roberts: A Dictionary of Japanese Artists, Weatherhill, Tokyo and New York, 1976, p. 181.