K015 Zen Geisha by Sengai Gibon, 仙崖義梵

kamigata geiko wa
chikofuta tonta
The new Kyoto
attracts much attention

(sealed) Sengai

Sengai Gibon (仙崖義梵, 1750-1837)
K015 hanging scroll, sumi on paper 65.7 cm × 28.3 cm.

This painting depicts a geisha with her attending koto player on their way to an assignation. She is a new arrival from the capital to remote Hakata (where Sengai was abbot of Shōfuku-ji) and all the local playboys want a piece of the action. Sengai, like Hakuin, employed all aspects of life as themes for his Zen art, and this painting pokes gentle fun at the endless desire human beings have for the new and novel. Actually, Sengai had many girls from the pleasure quarters as his patrons/followers (also like Hakuin), and he was kind and considerate towards geisha and courtesans.. Indeed, this may have been painted for one of them in particular. From the browning of the paper, it was evident that the scroll was hung for years (decades?) at a time. Even though the physical condition is not good, Sengai’s brushwork still animates the piece, and we can sense the Zen master’s gentle wisdom and good humor.

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