The leather-bound album contains roughly sixty paintings, many of which depict scenes from the early fourteenth-century Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness), a collection of personal anecdotes and fantastic stories written by Yoshida Kenko (circa 1283–circa 1352). The paintings were likely produced as a Japanese-style bound album (nara ehon) known for its depictions of popular narratives. The paintings in this album belong to a category of illustrations of the Tsurezuregusa that were popular during the seventeenth century. At that time “picture shops” (eya) created albums, fans, handscrolls, and other formats and sold them in storelike settings. The paintings were likely remounted into this album in the late nineteenth century.
These are the first painted images of Tsurezuregusa to be accessioned into the Freer Gallery’s collection. The album complements a printed version of this important Japanese classic in the Gerhard Pulverer Collection of Illustrated Books (FSC-GR-780.837). In its leather-bound format, it offers a striking example of how popular Japanese paintings were received, used, and understood by early collectors of Asian art in the West.