Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
This painting refers to a poem from the 10th-century Tales of Ise, one of Japan’s most beloved literary works. Hiding in the reeds, a man peers at an elegantly dressed woman seated on a veranda. They are childhood friends who married, but their life was not prosperous, and the husband now frequently visits a second wife—and a better life—in neighboring Kawachi province. His suspicions aroused by his wife’s apparent indifference to his departures, one day he pretends to leave but spies on her instead. Seated on the veranda, she recites a poem expressing her concern for his safety. Deeply touched, he finds his love for her reborn, and he ceases his trips to Kawachi.
Tawaraya Sotatsu derived his motifs from classical painting and literature. A genius of design, he constructed uncluttered abstract settings with strong diagonal components and bright pigments highlighted with gold and silver leaf. A delicate sense of restraint makes his works dynamic, rich, and colorful without being overpowering or gaudy. Later artists who transmitted Sotatsu’s painting methods came to be known collectively as the Rin School, or Rinpa.
Court aristocrats patronized Sotatsu, as did wealthy townspeople who provided services or products to the court, or whose own aesthetic pursuits led them to identify with the tastes of the nobility.
“Is he journeying alone in the dead of night across that mountain rising when the tempest blows?” —From Tales of Ise, chapter 23, 10th century
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