Katsushika Hokusai

Poem by emperor Tenchi from the series »One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets,, 1835

About the object

This print, in which Hokusai interprets a poem written more than 1000 years earlier by means of a landscape representation, depicting the moment of the autumn rice harvest. The paths of the farmers meander across the picture's surface and provide movement on both sides. The complexity of the print is heightened by the clouds of haze on the horizon that hold the composition together.
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This piece is from a series that, in contrast to others by Hokusai, did not succeed. Only twenty-seven of the projected series of one hundred prints were completed; with an additional sixty-four designs surviving only as preparatory drawings. The central premise of the series was to combine the one hundred poems from the Ogura hyakunin isshu anthology with images by Hokusai. Japanese people have been committing the poems in this anthology to memory for almost a millennium, and even today New Year’s games are based on the rote memorization of poems from this series. In this print, we see the rich imaginative powers of Hokusai, as he interprets a poem written over a thousand years before his lifetime in a landscape. In this case, he illustrates the following poem byEmperor Tenchi (626-671) as follows:

In the autumn fields
I seek a shelter in a hut,
Now my sleeves are growing wet
by the soaking dew
from the rush mat roof

Hokusai depicts the autumn moment when the rice is cut from the fields and brought in for harvest. The composition is complex in terms of details and colours, and there is directional movement to both the left and the right, as the paths of the farmers zigzag across the surface. The complexity is harnessed by the swaths of horizon, which impose a unity upon the image. Here, just as in the image entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, a central group of trees-in this case deciduous-dominate the composition. Rice harvesting has been seen for ages and across cultures as a symbolic measure of a just ruler. When the rule of the emperor or king was in accordance with the laws of the gods the land was rewarded with a bountiful rice harvest. We see an intimation of that age-old symbolism in this image, with the large sheaves of rice brought in by the farmers-so heavy that the wooden beams bend and farmers struggle under their loads.

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