Thirty-six poetry cards float across an ethereal scene bearing poems from the Shinkokin wakashū (New Anthology of Poems Past and Present), circa 1205–10, inscribed in the Kōetsu style. Themes associated with spring, summer, fall, and winter progress from right to left. In the left-hand portion of the left screen are poems dealing with love and travel. The disconcerting placement of bamboo blinds and the varied plant life suggest an ambiguously fluid connection between the interior and natural world. The painting techniques are luxurious and subtle: the meticulous horizontal gold lines on the bamboo blinds represent open slits while the alternating spaces represent the bamboo slats; the raised forms (made using a gesso-based moriagetechnique) suggest dimensionality; and gold foil sheets and sprinkled fragments add resplendence.
These screens were acquired by Charles Lang Freer in 1902. He bought them from the dealer Matsuki Bunkyō (1867–1940) who thought Kōetsu was responsible for both calligraphy and painting. In a spirited correspondence, Freer argued with humor and force for the painterly hand of Sōtatsu while Matsuki pressed for a complete Kōetsu authorship. Matsuki’s perspective—a deference to the renowned Kōetsu over the obscure Sōtatsu—reflected a common prejudice among Japanese collectors and dealers.
Folding Screens Mounted with Poem Cards from the Shinkokin wakashū (New Anthology of Poems Past and Present)
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637), calligrapher
Japan, Edo period, ca. 1624–37
Pair of six-panel folding screens
Ink, colors, and gold on paper
Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1902.195-196