This portrait of Okakura Tenshin painted nine years after his death conveys straightforwardly the artist’s respect and affection for his dead teacher.
The painting Tenshin Okakura, which Shimomura Kanzan exhibited at the autumn Inten (Japan Art Institute Exhibition) commemorating its 25th year, was destroyed the following year in the Great Kanto Earthquake. This sketch, which Kanzan himself had presented as a memento to Langdon Warner, the American scholar of Asian art history, was donated to the Tokyo Fine Arts School in 1932, after the artist’s death. Tenshin’s commanding appearence, as he stares hard into space deep in thought, is painted with a freedom of brushwork made possible by the very fact that it is a study. We even feel a certain movement in the air. It is said that when he produced this work, Kanzan had only a thumbnail-sized photograph of Tenshin and had to rely on his memory to capture his dead teacher’s distinctive features. The garment is one worn by Chinese Taoists, which Tenshin liked to wear, while piece of paper with the draft for a picture scroll of the Tale of Heike, written in Tenshin’s own hand, has been pasted into place on the scroll on the desk. Kanzan, Taikan, and Shunso were considered the triumvirate among Tenshin’s students. They built the foundations of the Tokyo Fine Arts School and through the Nihon Bijutsuin (Japan Art Institute) founded by Tenshin, became the driving force behind the revolutionizing of Japanese style painting. Among the three, Kanzan in particular was so faithful to the pictorial ideas and ideals of his teacher that people said, “Tenshin’s brain is moving Kanzan’s arm.” (Writer : Rie Yokoyama Source : Selected Masterpieces from The University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music: Grand Opening Exhibition, The University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, 1999)