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Enjoyment of Art

I will always be fascinated by old Chinese and Japanese paintings and woodcarvings showing bonsai. Often it is not only the bonsai or penjing that fascinate me, but especially the combinations of trees with their pots.

An article by Yukiko Takahashi, printed in an edition of BONSAI ART, featured a Japanese woodblock print that shows such an arrangement.

It is a pine tree in a porcelain pot. Today this would be considered a stylistic incongruity. But here it doesn't disturb in any way - quite the contrary, I'm moved by the harmony of the composition.

Looking at this image you sense a sublime artistry. Everything is harmonious, the bonsai forms a unity with the landscape, the landscape continues into the pattern of the garments, which again melds with the water in the keg.

This picture tells an entire story. To me it invokes thoughts about the enjoyment of bonsai and of ceramics.

Here is the article by Yukiko Takahashi:

Yukiko Takahashi is descended from a family of engravers whose tradition goes back to the end of the edo period. She is deeply rooted in the specific aesthetics of Japanese art.

A Bonsai On A Woodblock Print By Hokusai

The print shown here is titled “Tethered Horse, Excluded Horse”. It shows a deep pot painted in white-blue, contining a pine bonsai. Next to it are a jar and a black laquered keg, decorated with gold. From the title of the work you would also expect to see a horse, if not two; but obviously no animal is shown. This masterpiece of Japanese woodblock print is one sheet of a series of twenty works created by Hokusai in 1822, which are praising the beauty of eight famous Japanese landscapes. This series was highly esteemed by contemporary artists, poets and painters alike.

Tethered Horse, Excluded Horse. Print by Hokusai, 1822

In order to understand the topic of this picture, one needs to know the story of Oda Nobunga, an esteemed commander who played an important role in the process of the unification of Japan. Oda's general, Akechi Mitsuhide, and Mitsuhide's son-in-law, Samanosuke Mitsuharu, had been defeated in the war against Hideyoshi, who would later become Oda's successor. In the story, both defeated samurai return to the castle of Sakamoto, knowing they will face certain death. During the journey they take a rest under the branches of an old pine tree and then continue to the region of the Biwa lake in today's prefecture of Shiga.

On the print, the large lake is represented by the keg full of water. The depicted objects represent the eight famous landscapes that the two samurai saw during their journey, in a concrete or a symbolic way. The story goes on to tell how Samanosuke Misuharu, wanting to save the life of his faithful horse, tethers it in safe distance from the castle and walks the rest of his way.

This is an excellent print which was intened as a gift and was therefore made of material of the highest quality and with a lot of time and effort on the part of the artist. The top of the print shows a small poem praising the first rays of sun at the end of the winter, illuminating the mountain tops with their soft light.

The article by Yukiko Takahashi was kindly provided by BONSAI  ART.

Translation: Stefan Ulrich


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