Sōtatsu: Making Waves

Poems from the Kokin wakashū Anthology (Anthology of Poems Past and Present)

The text navigates a range of woodblock-stamped designs, which in their placement and diversely handled impressions rank as a tour-de-force examples by Sōtatsu. Pressed with hand-held stamps, the images reveal the remarkably creative range of pigments the artist used to define the plant and bird forms. Whether thick, runny patterns of residue or dry, thinly modulated outlines, the inking gives textural meaning to each subject. Similar to the pooled-ink technique of tarashikomi, the controlled imprecision of the stamps creates the rough and serendipitous quality associated with Sōtatsu’s aesthetic. Here again, the artist advanced the aesthetic possibilities in a period when mechanical reproduction, by hand or printing press, complemented and competed with the hand-produced manuscript.

Acquired in 1903 by Charles Lang Freer, this scroll was mounted in sections on four sliding-door panels (fusuma). The panels were purchased from Kobayashi Bunshichi (1861–1923), who later sold Dragons and Clouds and Waves at Matsushima to the American collector. On the luminous paper surface, Kōetsu rendered poetic quotes from the thirteenth section of the tenth-century Kokin wakashū(Anthology of Poems Past and Present), one of five sections that treat the theme of love.

Poems from the Kokin wakashū Anthology (Anthology of Poems Past and Present)
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637), calligrapher
Japan, Momoyama or Edo period, early 17th century
Ink, gold, silver, and mica on paper
Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1903.309

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