Ink, color and gold on silk
Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1902.225
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This monumental painting of Kannon, a bodhisattva (enlightened being) associated with infinite compassion, portrays the Buddhist deity in the guise of a maternal figure who nurtures an infant below surrounded by a halo. Both figures hover among clouds high above a stark landscape that represents the world where the newborn child will live. This unusual presentation of the familiar deity Kannon was based on traditional Buddhist works of art, in which the deity is sometimes attended or accompanied by a child. Hogai's work differs from traditional Buddhist paintings, however, in that the artist intended from the outset to create a painting for public display in art exhibitions rather than as an object of veneration for a Buddhist temple. This painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1883.
The American educator Ernest F. Fenellosa (18531908), who served on Japan's Imperial Art Commission from 188689, became a strong advocate and patron of Kano Hogai after meeting him in 1883. In 1886, while traveling in Europe for the imperial art commission, Fenellosa purchased from art dealer Siegfried Bing this painting of Kannon, which he called "The Creation of Man." Charles Lang Freer purchased the painting in 1902 from Fenellosa. In the last year of his life, Hogai completed a second version of Hibo Kannon, which is now in the collection of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.