Tengu (supernatural creature) and elephant comparing noses
Late 18th century
Ink and color on paper
Hanging scroll with box
13 x 9 1/2 in.
Exhibited and Published: Ôtsu-e. Ôtsu City Museum of History, 1997, pl. 150.
Originating in the middle of the Edo period, Ôtsu-e were inexpensive, initially quasi-religious and then folk-themed paintings that were sold as souvenirs at roadside booths in the Oiwaka region near the town of Ôtsu on the Tôkaidô Road. As they were a commercial art form, most were created in rapid fashion, utilizing simple bold brushwork, a limited palette of bright fields of color and sometimes created with the aid of paper stencils and woodblocks.
“[Ôtsu-e are] the painting of the people. Each line and each stroke follow the rules of their ancestors…a picture of how you observe the world and sketch an article.”
- Yanagi Sôetsu (1889-1961), co-founder of the Mingei folk art movement
In this extremely fine example, beautifully mounted and in fine condition, a tengu, in flight, compares his long nose with that of an elephant in an admonition against snobbishness. Tengu are mythical winged beings that are said to live in remote locations in Japan’s deeply forested mountains and are characterized by the extraordinary length of their noses. Elephants were not actually seen in Japan until 1729, when one was presented by Viet Nam (Annam). This subject of an elephant paired with a tengu is rather uncommon and there remain very few published comparable examples. While ōtsu-e were produced in huge numbers, few remain in such a fine state today.