Hyonenzu (a painting of Catching a Catfish with a Gourd) (瓢鮎図)

Hyonenzu is a painting created by Josetsu, a leading painter and priest in the early stage of ink-and-wash paintings in Japan. It is a designated National Treasure in Japan.

Interpretation

Representing a Zen koan (a paradoxical question for Zen meditation) about how to catch a catfish with a gourd, it was commissioned by Seii Taishogun of the Muromachi shogunate, Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA, and was created before 1415. It is housed at Taizo-in Temple, the tatchu (sub temple) of Myoshin-ji Temple in Kyoto City.
National Treasure
In the upper part of the painting, there are inscriptions in the form of a commentary by Taigaku-Shusu and poems by 30 Zen priests, including Gyokuen Bonbo.

According to the commentary by Taigaku-Shusu on the top of the painting, it is understood that 'Daishoko' ordered Josetsu to draw this painting on 'the screen located within arm's reach' by adopting the 'new style' of painting. It is generally believed that 'Daishoko' refers to Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA.
Although there are several meanings for the 'new style' of painting, it is commonly regarded as the 'new style of the painting introduced from China (Southern Sung Dynasty).'
The existing painting is mounted on a hanging scroll with the inscriptions in the upper part of the painting and the picture in the lower part; however, it was originally drawn on 'the screen located within arm's reach' owned by Yoshimochi, with the picture and the inscriptions on each side.

The painting depicts a catfish ('鮎' in the title refers to catfish) swimming in the flow of water and a man trying to catch it with a gourd. The man does not appear to be holding the gourd tightly but instead does so in an awkward manner. It shows a left-front view of several stalks of bamboo and a distant view of mountains. The drawing method, in which the main motifs are gathered together in the lower-left corner of the painting and void space on the right side, is called 'Zanzanjosui' and 'Henkaku no Kei,' which were the specialty of Baen (Ma Yuan), a Chinese painter from the Southern Sung Dynasty. One can also clearly see the influence of 'Genhitsu-tai (art of simple painting to draw with fewer brush strokes)' by Ryokai (Liang Kai), who was also from the Southern Sung Dynasty, on the people depicted in the painting. As described above, this work was strongly influenced by Nanso-Intaiga (the Southern Sung Imperial Academy style of painting) and is a valuable piece in the history of Japanese painting as a relic definitely drawn by Josetsu, who was the leading painter specializing in the early stage of ink-and-wash paintings in Japan.

The painting is believed to have been painted in or around 1413 based on the time period in which those priests were working on the inscriptions, but the year 1415 could be the latest because Taihaku SHINGEN, one of the priests, died that year.

Data

Date of Designation as a National Treasure: June 9, 1951
Name of Designated National Treasure: Shihon Bokuga Tansai Hyonenzu, by Josetsu, a scroll, with commentary by Zengu-Shusu, and poems by 30 priests, including Gyokuen Bonbo.
Size: 111.5 cm x 75.8 cm (including inscriptions)
Owner: Taizo-in Temple, Hanazono Myoshinji-cho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City (deposited in Kyoto National Museum)