Kano Tan'yu (Japanese, 16021674)
Ink on paper; 40 x 9 1/2 in. (101.6 x 24.1 cm)
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallace Foundation Fund, 2006 (2006.174)
This small painting once belonged to the younger brother of the ninth Tokugawa shogun, Tayasu Munetake (17151771), a noted scholar and poet whose large seal is impressed below the colophon. It is accompanied by various documents of certification, authentication, and proof of provenance, reflecting its status as a specially valued possession of a shogunal family.
The painting was executed by Kano Tan'yu, the shogun's official painter, and was inscribed by Takuan Soho (15731645), one of the most prominent Zen monks in Japan's history. Copying a world-renowned early thirteenth-century painting by Southern Song Chinese master Liang Kai (Tokyo National Museum), Tan'yu described the historic moment in Zen legend when the sixth patriarch, Huineng (638713), suddenly achieved enlightenment while performing the mundane task of splitting a bamboo branch for firewood. Datable to 163545 both from the artist's signature and because Takuan died in 1645, the painting vividly demonstrates the young Tan'yu's skill. With just a few animated brushstrokes in light ink, he captured the spirit of the Zen parable, his manipulation of the broad ink wash leaving much to the viewer's imagination. Though modest in scale, the painting nevertheless resonates with historical and artistic significance.