Arts and Culture
At the Nagel auction held on July 17, 2017, there is a painting showing a seated woman holding a fan. A kyōka (mad verse) was inscribed on top of the figure with the signature and seal of the popular fiction writer Santō Kyōden (1761-1816). The authenticity of the calligraphy leaves little room for doubt. However, it doesn’t stand as a definite proof that the painting below is by the same hand. At the turn of the eighteenth century, Edo’s literati and artists often met at parties to exchange kyōka and enjoy the performative spontaneity of sekiga (impromptu paintings). Paintings executed on paper in a freestyle were often made at these gatherings to be presented to literary acquaintances. Kyōden is often found inscribing on other artists’ sekiga, such as Hokusai. In the Pfitzer Collection, where the painting belongs to since its purchase from the former owner Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896) in 1980, the Woman with a Fan stirred little attention, since it was described as “attributed to Kitao Masanobu,” Kyōden’s artistic name. If a more prominent artist was associated with this hanging scroll, would it change its fate of being left “unsold” at the Nagel auction?
On venturing to answer this question, this talk will first discuss the possible authorship of the painting by examining Santō Kyōden’s painterly works and his crossed artistic and literary itineraries with Hokusai. From this single case, the problems caused for collecting by the tradition of literary gathering in East Asia will then be discussed accordingly.