The literati painting, called Bunjin-ga in Japan, flourished up to the early years of the Meiji period. As the ideas which shaped it were distinct from Western realism, Bunjin-ga lost its vitality when realism entered Japan.
Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924),however, is an exception. He created a magnificent style identical to Western post-impressionism, despite the fact that he immersed himself into oriental culture all his life. The main characteristic of his work is that nearly all his paintings have an lengthy inscription alluding to Chinese classics. This is an obvious key to his work. It is from this viewpoint that my article attempts to interpret Tessai’s paintings on the Chinese literatus Su Tong-po. I examine his drawings in the light of the three most representative motifs, namely Su in bamboo hat and clogs, Su’s former and latter Red Cliff Odes, and Su’s return to the Hanlin Academy, through an analysis of the inscriptions. I found that Tessai’s works are characterized by both original classical allusions. and his subjective transformation of those allusions. Ancient references as well as creative individuality enriched Tessai’s paintings. His style facilitated innovations to the Bunjin-ga in both Japan and China in the early years of the twentieth century when a dull content and form marked the decline of the school.