Two Chinese hermits—known in Japanese as Kanzan (Chinese: Hanshan) and Jittoku (Chinese: Shide)—lived near the sacred mountain Tiantaishan during the Tang dynasty (618–907). They appear frequently in Zen Buddhist paintings, representing rejection of the secular world and the search for enlightenment. Their disparity in education and social status is considered unimportant. Here, Kanzan opens a scroll of his poetry, watched by Jittoku, a servant at a monastery.
Gahō’s composition contrasts dark and light tones and sets the figures in a conventional but highly simplified landscape. The painting was shown in an exhibition organized by the Kangakai (Society for the Appreciation of Paintings), established by American scholar Ernest F. Fenollosa to promote new Japanese-style paintings. Gahō’s techniques provide a subtle modern sensibility, which was encouraged by Fenollosa, who wrote to Charles Lang Freer in 1902 that the painting had created such excitement that “the Emperor asked to borrow it and kept it several months.” Fenollosa’s influence in persuading Western collectors to acquire paintings by living Japanese artists may account for the fact that few of the paintings shown by the Kangakai have remained in Japan.
Kanzan and Jittoku
Hashimoto Gahō (1835–1908)
Japan, ca. 1886
Ink on paper
Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1902.227
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