Raku Tanyu’s letter to Gengensai

Imagine Raku Tanyu and Gengensai drinking tea, remembering the good old days, and chatting about art. They were celebrities in the most cultivated inner circles of Kyoto. And they have known each other for a long time. They have been professionally related, Raku the potter and Gengensai the tea master. But but apparently – as the letter is written in an intimate and casual style – they were close friends.

Tanyu writes, “We have had fine weather, but the wind blows strongly today. I am happy to hear that you are fine. Have you asked Old Chikuto to lend you that small book? Is he going to send his assistant to me, or are you waiting to receive the book? By all means, I want to read it… since I’ve never seen it. I have only heard about it, which is why I’m asking. – This fifth day of the ninth month. [PS] Have you met Takuken again, whom I introduced to you the other day? – To Gengensai”.

Tanyu askes about a small book written by literatus Nakabayashi Chikuto (1776-1853). Presuming that Tanyu was more interested in theoretical aspects of Chikuto’s art – as opposed to mere illustrations, the “small book” he wanted to read so much may have been Chikuto’s “Introduction to the Art of Painting” (Gado tebikigusa). Chikuto wrote this book, as well other treatises on art theory and guide books for painters, towards the end of his career, in the 1840s and early 50s. His writings provided a theoretical foundation for the Nanga or literati school of paintings. 

Raku X Tanyu (1795-1854)

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