Tochigi Prefectural Museum, Watanabe Kazan-ten (February-March, 1984), fig. 32
Kazan exhibition executive office, ed., Kazan Meisaku-ten (Aichi Prefecture: Tawara Bunka kaikan, 1985), fig. 67 and text p. 122
This monumental painting is dated the year before Kazan was arrested on false charges of conspiracy and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to house arrest, but Kazan committed suicide two years later.
Kazan was a painter famous for distinctive landscapes such as this one in the bunjinga or literati painting style and for realistic portraits. Born into a samurai family, Kazan served as a high-ranking official of the minor fief of Tawara in Aichi Prefecture. An early advocate of opening Japan to the West, he and other scholars of Dutch learning formed the Shoshikai, a group of intellectuals dedicated to Western studies. In 1838 (the year he painted 'Drinking tea in a ravine') Kazan published Shinkiron, a pamphlet critical of the shogunate's isolationist policy, and this naturally aroused the suspicion of the xenophobic Tokugawa government.
The solitary figure of a poet or scholar in a landscape is a traditional image derived from Chinese models, but in this exceptional composition the tiny figures are dwarfed by a bizarre, towering cliff. The scholar reads while one young assistant fishes and the other prepares tea. They seem oblivious to the wonders of nature around them. The distant waterfall in this painting has been interpreted as a symbol of satori, or enlightenment, a single moment of revelation which may await the self-absorbed scholar.