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  • Thumbnail for Irises and Poem
    Irises and Poem by Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828)

    Hanging scroll; ink and light colors on ink with beautiful brocade mounting. Image size: 38†x 13.75â€, scroll mounting: 72" x 18 1/4". Signed by the artist (who indicates he also inscribed the poem) with one red, gourd-shaped seal: Bunzen. Stored in paulownia wood (kiri) box. The artist of this scroll followed in the footsteps of artists associated with the Rinpa school tradition, who, from the 17th century, had borrowed subjects from Japan’s courtly past, but presented them in novel ways. When Japanese viewers see paintings of irises, they inevitably associate them with Japan's most celebrated poetic narrative, The Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari), compiled in the tenth century. This tale consists of 125 episodes that intersperse a biographical narrative of Ariwara no Narihira (825-880), a famous courtier-poet of the previous century, together with examples of his romantic poetry. One of the sections describes how, when a man and his friends go looking for a place to live in the East they come to an eight-planked bridge (yatsuhashi) that crosses a marsh filled with flowering irises. On the spot, they compose poems to their loved ones far away. Although as yet undeciphered, it is likely that the poem Hōitsu inscribed on his painting comes from this section of the Tales of Ise, which was a favorite of his to illustrate.