Ōtagaki Rengetsu 大田垣蓮月 (1791-1875)

Sencha Tea Cup with Wild Geese Poem and Painting

Inv. Nr. #19.038
Date Late Edo period, 1850s
Material Glazed stoneware with iron brown inscription and painting
Dimensions H 3,8 x Diam. 7 cm

Comes with old, fitted wooden box.

Price on request

Ōtagaki Rengetsu is perhaps the most famous poet of the 19th century and is also known for her excellent skills in calligraphy and pottery. She was born the illegitimate daughter of a samurai from the Tōdō family. Soon after her birth, she was adopted by Ōtagaki Mitsuhasa, who worked at Chion'in, an important temple of the Jōdo (Pure Land) school in Kyōto. In 1798, after losing her mother and brother, she was sent to serve as a lady-in-waiting at Kameoka Castle in Tanba, where she was taught classical poetry, calligraphy, and martial arts.

At the age of 33, she had already experienced some fateful years in her life, losing two husbands and all five of her children. She then decided to shave her hair and take vows, taking the name Rengetsu (Lotus Moon). She lived with her stepfather near Chion'in Temple. After his death in 1832, Rengetsu began making her extraordinary pottery, which she usually inscribed with her own waka (31-syllable classical poetry) and sold to support herself. With her unique combination of pottery, calligraphy, and poetry, Rengetsu gained recognition far beyond Kyōto during her lifetime.

This small tea cup was made for the Sencha tea ceremony and is a wonderful example of Rengetsu's excellent skills in rendering synaesthetic impressions. The cup is inscribed with one of her poems:


Dark clouds

across the moon


until I hear their cries

a sky full of wild geese.


Here, Rengetsu describes a scene of a darkening sky, which at first seems threatening and unpleasant, until the moment when the voices of wild geese are heard. On the surface of the teacup, she combines her poem with the image of three wild geese in her abbreviated brushstrokes. 



Black Robe, White Mist: Art of the Japanese Buddhist Nun Rengetsu, National Gallery of Australia, 2007.



Tokyo National Museum, Metropolitan Museum, Harvard Art Museum, National Gallery of Australia, Miho Museum, LACMA Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many more...