The Zen monk Gibon Sengai was ordained at the age of ten at a temple near his village. In 1788 he moved to the oldest Zen temple in Japan, on the southern island of Kyuˉshuˉ, where he developed a reputation as a wise and compassionate, though controversial, teacher, and as a painter whose work was highly valued even in his own lifetime. This painting of chrysanthemums is typical of Sengai’s work. Deceptively simple––a few chrysanthemum flowers are entangled with stray strands of grass—the painting includes a poem that plays with gentle humor on the word for chrysanthemum, kiku, a homophone for the verb kiku, to hear: Even though/ the flower has no ears/ it is called kiku.
Late 18th century
Ink on paper
15 7/16 x 22 3/8 in. (39.3 x 56.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 68.208