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Appreciation of Art

Appreciation of Art

I am always impressed by old Chinese or Japanese paintings or woodcuts on which bonsai are pictured in some way.

Not only the penjing or bonsai are fascinating, but the ancient combination of tree and pot is impressive.

In one issue of the Bonsai-Art magazine there was an article of Ms Yukiko Takahashi with a Japanese woodcut which shows such a composition. A pine bonsai is growing in a porcelain pot. Today this would be considered as clashing with the style. But somehow it does not disturb me in any way. On the contrary, it seems deeply harmonious to me.

Watching the picture, we feel the intensive joy of art appreciation. Everything is harmonious, the bonsai seems to flow into the environment, to the piece of clothing and the water in the vat. A whole story is told.

This reminds me of a special facet of pleasure and enjoyment of bonsai and ceramics.

Here is the article of Ms Yukiko Takahashi.

A bonsai on a woodcut print by Hokusai

This woodcut print has the title „Tethered horse, debarred horse“. It shows a deep white pot with blue painting and a pine bonsai growing in it. Beside it there is a jug and a black lacquered vat, both decorated with gold. If you know the title of the work, you would expect at least one horse, if not two. But apparently there is no animal pictured. This masterpiece of Japanese woodcut art is one sheet of a series of 20, which were created by Hokusai in 1822. They praise the beauty of eight famous Japanese landscapes. This series was highly appreciated by contemporary artists, who practised literature and painting.

In order to understand the theme of the picture, you must know the story of Oda Nobunga's death, a great commander who advanced the process of the Japanese union.  Oda's general, Akechi Mitsuhide, and his son in law, Samanosuke Mitsuharu, were conquered in the war against Hideyoshi, who later became Oda's successor. In the story, the defeated returned to the castle of Sakamoto, knowing that they were approaching their death. During the journey, they rested under the branches of an old pine and then rode on until they crossed the area of the lake Biwa in today's Shiga prefecture. The great lake is symbolized by the water vat in the print. The pictured objects contain the eight famous landscapes (concretely or represented by symbols) which the two samurai had to travel on their way back home to their death. It is reported, that Samanosuke Misuharu, who wanted to save the life of his loyal horse, tethered it in a safe distance to the castle and covered the rest of the distance by foot.

It is mentionable that it is an excellent print, as it was meant as a gift and therefore was made of high quality materials and with a great expense of time and funds by the artist. In the upper part of the picture, there is a little poem which praises the first sunshine at the end of winter, which lightens the smooth peaks of the mountains.


Yukiko Takahashi descends from a family of engravers whose tradition goes back to the end of the Edo period. She has a strong connection to the typical aesthetics of Japanese arts.

„Tethered horse, debarred horse“. Print by Hokusai, created 1822

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

English translation: Heike van Gunst

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