Taoist Immortal Zhang Guolao Expansion

Taoist Immortal Zhang Guolao 


下村 観山
Birth Year
Death Year
ca. 1921 
Technique, Material, Format
color on silk, two-panel folding screen 
168.0 x 172.0 cm 
Donor name
Mr. Tsutsui Sataro
Nihonga (Japanese-style Painting) 
Inventory Number

Zhang Guolao is a Chinese scholar hermit from Taoist mythology. Stories are told about him folding up his mule and carrying it with him in a container, and then dousing it with water to return it to its original size so he can then ride on it again for thousands of kilometers. In Japan, the saying goes that the container for the folded-up mule also transformed into a gourd, giving rise to the phrase “a horse from a gourd,” which is now used to describe something impossible that becomes true.
Here, Zhang Guolao holds a gourd in his right hand as he faces a toy-like mule. The contrast between the delicate lines of the hermit’s face and hands with the thick outlines of his clothing gives a sense that something is happening. The wings of his cap and his blue waist strap seem to be blowing towards the mule, and it looks as though he is about to speak. But, what to make of the mule? Has it been miniaturized by some magic, or is it depicted here in the process of reverting to its normal size?

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