Two Gibbons Reaching for the Moon
Edo period (1615–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
45 1/4 x 19 1/16 in. (114.9 x 48.4 cm)
Currently Not On View
This charming painting depicts a mother gibbon dangling her baby by the arm as she hangs from a tendril suspended from a tree. The title of the painting is a reference to the Zen Buddhist concept that simple people and animals often mistake the reflection of the moon for the moon itself. In this case it is both the baby gibbon and its mother who are trying to grasp the moon’s reflection in the water—though not physically depicted here, its presence is understood. The subject also alludes to the dilemma of the human condition: we reach for the unreal (in this case the reflection of the moon) instead of looking for proper spiritual substance. Jakuchu has imbued the subject with both humor and affection—the gibbons may be confused, but if they stop searching for the truth, all will be lost. And although the moon is not actually represented, its round shape is mirrored in the gibbons’ faces. Beginning in the 1760s and throughout the 1770s Jakuchu spent extended periods of seclusion at the Obaku Zen temple of Sekihoji, south of Kyoto. This painting corresponds to that period, when Jakuchu increasingly chose to depict Zen subjects executed in ink-monochrome style in which basic and geometric forms would assume prominence over any approximation of realism.