Height: 238.000 mm
Width: 1447.000 mm
Asia JA JP ADD892 (1989.4-24.01)
Maruyama ōkyo, Nine Old Men of Mt. Xiang, a 2-fold screen painting
Edo period, AD 1783
A celebration of old age
The small size and format of this screen suggest it was used as an accessory in the preparation of steeped tea (sencha), a custom imported from China which became popular in Japan during the eighteenth century. It shows a group of nine men engaging in elegant pursuits such as calligraphy, conversation and music, while seated in a garden among eccentrically shaped rocks. The scene is the retreat on Mt. Xiang of the well-known Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty, Bo Juyi (772-846).
According to legend, in the third month of 845 Bo Juyi was joined by six companions, and again in the summer by two more. In this seclusion of the retreat, to the east of Longmen on the outskirts of the capital Loyang, these educated men could relax and leave behind their worldly concerns. They were all quite elderly (as is evident from their grey hair and beards), and pictures of this theme became associated with celebrating advanced age. The work may well have been commissioned from the illustrious Kyoto artist ōkyo (1733-95) on the occasion of someone's 60th or 70th birthday.
ōkyo was renowned for his realistic style and refined techniques. One of his important ambitions was to master the full range of human 'types'; the nine old men in this work are varied in their poses and expressions.
The signature reads 'Temmei mizunotō chūka sha ōkyo' ('Painted by ōkyo, midsummer [4th month] 1783'). The seals read 'ōkyo' and 'Chūsen'.
I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)