Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875)

Eggplant Painting & Poem

Inv. Nr. #21.010
Date Late Edo period, 1840-50s
Material Ink on paper
Dimensions H 121,5 (33,0) x W 46,0 (43,0) cm

Comes with new mounting and fitted wooden box.

 

In this delicate and minimalistic artwork, the famous nun artist and poet Ōtagaki Rengetsu is presenting one of her most famous poems: the so-called eggplant poem. Despite her personal tragic life, with the loss of two husbands and all her children, the work exemplifies the subtle humor Rengetsu was able to maintain for herself as a Buddhist nun. In her poem, she links the image of two ripe eggplants with the Buddhist conception of a fulfilled and happy life. The poetic inscription in her fluent and elegant handwriting reads:

 

To rise in the world

and achieve

what one desires,

therefore, eggplants are indeed

a fortunate example.

 

世の中に

みのなりいでゝ

おもふこと

なすはめでたき

ためし也けり

 

Next to the poem, Rengetsu painted two Japanese eggplants in ink wash. The vegetables hint at the double meaning of the word 'nasu' in the poem. Written only in phonetic hiragana syllables, the word could be understood as 'eggplant' (茄子 or 茄) or in its meaning as a verb 'to achieve' or 'to accomplish' (なす or 成す).

 

Different versions of this painting and a discussion of the poem by Chiaki Ajioka have been published in: Black Robe, White Mist. Art of the Japanese Buddhist Nun Rengetsu, exhibition catalog, National Gallery of Australia (2007).

 

The hanging scroll has been recently professionally remounted and comes in perfect, flawless condition with a fitted wooden storage box.