Watercolor and gouache over graphite
Support: Cream(2) wove paper laid down on beige(1) cardboard
Sheet: 27.3 x 38.9 cm (10 3/4 x 15 5/16 in.); Image: 25 x 33.7 cm (9 13/16 x 13 1/4 in.); Secondary Support: 28 x 40.8 cm (11 x 16 1/16 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1939.267
The spots of paint on the bottom left corner of this sheet show where the artist tested colors before applying them to his composition.
In the late 19th century, John La Farge was one of the first American artists to take a serious interest in Japanese art. This watercolor was produced after La Farge visited Japan in 1886, where he studied Daoism and painting with the writer Okakura Kakuzō (1862–1913). Here, he employed Western modeling and depth, building the water’s mass through transparent washes of light and dark blue, but also simulated the asymmetrical composition, lyrical tone, and bright blue color palette of contemporary Japanese woodblock prints. Hinting at the relationship between humans and the natural world, the ocean’s tempestuous curls echo the swirls of dense gouache in the imaginary figure’s robes, merging the figure of the “rishi” with the surging waters behind him. According to the artist's writings, “rishi” designates a powerful being who has reached immortality by following Daoist teachings. However, it is possible that La Farge misunderstood the term rishi: Resshi—the Japanese pronunciation of Liezi (列子), is a legendary Daoist philosopher who could ride the wind.
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