Scroll, ink on paper, mounting on silk
122 (h) x 32.5 cm (183 (h) x 45.5 cm)
Shōwa period (1926-1989), ca. 1926-1945
Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in « Enfers et Fantômes d’Asie » (April 10th - July 15th 2018)
A skeleton reading a scroll
Okada Kakyō (1892-1981)
Signed Kakyō senshi (華郷僢史)
Seal: Kakyō 華郷
A skeleton is absorbed in reading a long scroll under the hazy moon. It is difficult to say if it is male or a female because its pelvis is hidden behind a scroll. If it is a female, she is perhaps reading a long love letter from her beloved. The skeleton is standing erect and appears immersed in its activity. The painting might be a mitate (allegory) painting of a courtesan reading a love letter. Ukiyo-e masters of the Edo period such as Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) often portrayed the courtesan at the Tea House reading letters under the dim light in the wee hours. It might be a cautionary tale suggesting that Ukiyo (the Floating World) is fleeting and that beauty is only skin deep. Mundane activities and pleasure do not last forever. They are therefore all the more precious!
Okada Kakyō exhibited at the 6th Teiten exhibition in 1925, but little is known about him. He was born in Tokyo, and his given name was Genjirō. His gō (art name) is Kakyō (literally “Flower and Countryside"). He studied Yamato-e style and ukiyo-e under Kikkawa Reika (1875-1929). Like his master, he may have deliberately distanced himself from exhibiting his works at major and public venues. Kakyō’s other art name Nenge-sō suggests that he was greatly influenced by Zen Buddhism; the words “nenge mishō” means the wordless transmission of the truth from Buddha Śākyamuni to Mahākāśyapa. From this paradigmatic interaction, Zen developed the key notions of transmission from heart to heart or mind to mind (ishin-denshin) and the special transmission outside the scriptures (kyoge-betsuden). Okada Kakyō died in Showa 56 (1981) at the age of 89.