Orchids and Rock ("Lofty Fragrance")
This painting, which combines the image of a rock and orchid with an inscription citing ancient texts, represents an approach taken by some eighteenth-century Japanese artists who sought to emulate Chinese models of visual expression. Ike Taiga (1723–1776) was a major force in this process. He was particularly beholden to the artifacts and deep learning conveyed by émigré Chinese Obaku Zen Buddhist monks, who established themselves in Japan after the fall of the Ming dynasty (1644), particularly in the environs of Kyoto.
The inscription in Taiga’s hand references the poem Li Sao (Encountering Sorrow) by the revered Chinese poet Qu Yuan (340–278 BCE) and is variously translated as “Lofty Fragrance” or “Hidden Fragrance.”
Of further interest is the unusual mounting, which is composed of fragments from a rubbing of the Tang dynasty stele Dazhi chanshi bei (Stele of the Chan Master of Great Wisdom), now housed in the Xi’an Beilin Museum. This 2-meter-high stele was erected in 736 CE. The original author was Yan Tingzhi, and the calligrapher was Shi Weize. Rubbings of this inscription had wide popularity throughout East Asia and were typically divided into smaller sections suitable for an album format. It seems likely that the mounting material was cut from an album format for decorative purposes rather than with any intention to present logical text sequences.
This is an “occasional” work most likely produced with some spontaneity or as a gift in response to a casual request. It joins more than a dozen distinguished Taiga paintings and woodblock-printed books related to Taiga’s work in the Freer collection.