Gahō was one of several classically trained Japanese painters whose traditional client base disappeared when Japan abruptly modernized in the late nineteenth century. He benefited from the promotion, guidance, and friendship of Ernest Fenollosa, the American scholar who introduced Chinese and Japanese art to international audiences. In 1902, Charles Lang Freer purchased this painting from Fenollosa, who noted the “sweet human earnestness” of Gahō’s rendering.
Bodhidharma (Japanese: Daruma) was a South Indian prince who traveled to China and taught meditation, the fundamental practice of the Buddhist school known as Zen in Japan and Chan in Chinese. He is portrayed here with an aura of light surrounding his head, a detail typical in representations of Buddhist deities. Portraits of the founders of lineages are often given to pupils as a symbol of enlightenment. The images also serve a commemorative function on the anniversary of Bodhidharma’s death, which Japanese Zen monks observe on October 5.
Bodhidharma Seated in Meditation
Hashimoto Gahō (1835–1908)
Japan, ca. 1885
Ink and color on paper
Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1902.228
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