- Museum number
Painting, hanging scroll. Poem-diviner Watarai Ietsugu, from the No play 'Utaura', reflecting sadly on home while selling poems hanging from string of his bow. Ink and light colours on paper. Signed, dated and sealed.
- Production date
- 1827 (2nd day, 1st month)
Diameter: 3 centimetres (Jiku)
Height: 206 centimetres (Mount)
Height: 124.20 centimetres
Width: 72.50 centimetres (Mount)
Width: 50.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
The poems are written on 'tanzaku' (poem-slips) and tied to a bow. Recent research has suggested that this is a portrait of the playwright Kanze Motomasa. However, the facial likeness is very close to Hokusai's portraits of himself. The signature is 'Respectfully painted by Hokusai Iitsu', and the date is Bunsei 10 (= 1827), first month.
The subject has been identified by Endo Takeshi ('NU', vol. 7 (1982), no. 32) as the character Watarai Ietsugu from the No play 'Utaura' written by Kanze Motomasa in the early fifteenth century. A similar, though not identical, figure appears in 'Hokusai manga', vol. 11 (1834), p. 3 verso. The affecting expression on the downcast face suggests that Watarai Ietsugu is reflecting sadly on the home at Ise he has left behind to roam the country selling the fortune-telling poems that are hanging from the string of his bow. Perhaps the hint of a self-portrait projected on to this depiction of a character from remote history can be detected. Hokusai notes that this was the first painting of the New Year of Bunsei 10 (1827), and it is signed 'respectfully painted' which, together with the generally abbreviated style using broad lines of different ink tonality, suggests that this may have been a 'sekiga', a 'painting done on the spot' at a New Year party for some illustrious patron with classical tastes. This technique of broad lines with rich, dark accents originated in the figure paintings of Hokusai's 'Sori' period (c. 1795-8) and always remained an alternative to his more meticulous style.
Hillier, Jack, 'Hokusai: Paintings, Drawings and Woodcuts'. London, Phaidon, 1955, no. 80.
NCJ, vol. 7 (1982), no. 32.
Tokyo, Ueno no Mori Bijutsukan, 'Daiei Hakubutsukan shozo ukiyo-e meisaku ten' ('Masterpieces of Ukiyo-e from the British Museum'). Exh. cat., 29 March-12 Apr. 1985, no. 167.
Forrer, Matthi, and Goncourt, Edmond de, 'Hokusai'. New York, Rizzoli, 1988, no. 327.
Smith, Lawrence (ed.), 'Ukiyo-e: Images of Unknown Japan'. London, British Museum Publications, 1988, no. 167.
Clark, Timothy. "Paintings by Hokusai in the British Museum", 'Orientations'. Vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1990), 37-44, fig. 7.
本作品の主題は、遠藤武によって能「歌占」（観世元雅作、15世紀初頭）の登場人物渡会家次と確定されている（楢崎宗重監修『肉筆浮世絵』第7巻 1982年 集英社 32図）。同一ではないがよく似た人物が、「北斎漫画」第11巻（天保5年•1834刊）3丁裏に登場する。
A poem-diviner (uta-uranai-shi) told fortunes by interpreting a verse that a customer selected apparently at random from those attached to the diviner’s bow (an ancient tool of Shinto shamanism). An illustration of the subject in volume 11 of Hokusai’s Sketches (Hokusai manga, 1834) credits the soothsayer Watarai Ietsugu with initiating the practice. Watarai’s story is told in the medieval Noh drama Utaura (Divination by Poem, early 1400s), in which he is reunited with his son after a three-day sojourn in hell and a long period of travelling. Hokusai’s painting shows Watarai on the road, dressed in the white robes of a Shinto priest, and with a pensive expression, as though he is contemplating the vicissitudes of human fortune. Perhaps Hokusai blended something of his own worldview into his portrayal of the character. Both the abbreviated but expertly controlled brush technique, and the terms in the signature ‘respectfully drawn’ and ‘first use of the brush’ at the beginning of the year, suggest that Hokusai may have produced this work as an ‘impromptu painting’ (sekiga) for a patron of rank during a New Year gathering. New Year was a time for both social events and fortune-telling.(Alfred Haft)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2014 Oct- 2015 Jan, Reunion des musees nationaux Grand Palais, Hokusai
2017 25 May - 13 Aug, London, BM, G35, Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave
2017 6 Oct - 19 Nov, Osaka, Abeno Harukas Art Museum
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Utaura 歌占 (No play written by Kanze Motomasa in the early fifteenth century)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The collection of Japanese and Chinese paintings belonging to Arthur Morrison was purchased by Sir William Gwynne-Evans, who presented it to the British Museum in 1913.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.1450 (Japanese Painting Number)