Rengetsu: Solitary Yet Sociable

[Transcript to Curator Audio Podcast]

As a Buddhist nun and artist, Rengetsu spent much of her time alone creating art and meditating upon the nature of life. Many of her poems refer to her solitary existence, for instance this verse about the wind in the pines:

Living deep in the mountains
I’ve grown fond of the
Solitary sound of the pines;
On days that the wind does not blow
How lonely it is!

However, Rengetsu was also sociable, and spent much time in the company of fellow artists and literary figures. She enjoyed the regular gatherings of the Kyoto literati, drinking sake and sencha tea, while discussing politics and culture. During these gatherings, artists often produced collaborative works for special occasions and to commemorate special relationships. Rengetsu inscribed poems in her elegant calligraphy alongside the paintings by her friends. She collaborated most closely with Tomioka Tessai and Wada Gesshin. Tessai painted the famous portrait of Rengetsu as an elderly nun, reproduced in the introductory text panel of this exhibition. Tessai was a younger artist who she is believed to have loved like her own son. Her relationship with Gesshin, or “Moon Mind,”- the artist whose lotus painting is included in this exhibition - is thought to have been even more intimate. The two like-minded Buddhist artists, both named after the moon, very likely shared many a beautiful night contemplating its transient beauty.

Text written by Meher McArthur
Audio produced by Julian Bermudez