One night stand as new Wordsworth portrait heads to Japan

A new portrait of William Wordsworth was unveiled for just one night in the Lake District before heading for a major exhibition in Japan.

H and C 2

Hideyuki Sobue and Christopher Wordsworth with the new painting

The painting of Wordsworth with the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho is the work of Hideyuki Sobue, who now lives in Cumbria, and was commissioned by the Kakimori Bunko Museum in Japan. It will be on show there from next month as part of an exhibition, Walking Poets, which assembles some of the original manuscripts of the poets: Wordsworth in England and Basho in Japan, alongside artworks created by over 20 contemporary artists from the UK and Japan.

The one-night showing was at Wordsworth’s former home at Rydal Mount near Ambleside where the curators, Peter and Marian Elkington, held a reception and poetry recital by Christopher Wordsworth Andrew, the poet’s great great great great grandson. Sobue also read from Basho’s work.

It was, said Peter Elkington, truly a one night stand: “In three days this painting will be shipped to Japan and it’s so good it’s bound to be bought there. It will never be shown in England again.”

Hideyuki reads Basho

Hideyuki reads Basho

The new exhibition will celebrate the worldwide influence of two of the greatest writers ever. Bashō (1644-1694) was a traveller who wandered throughout Japan, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.

Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the most influential of England’s Romantic poets. As a poet of nature, Wordsworth stands supreme. He was a devotee of nature and often spent holidays on walking tours, visiting places famous for the beauty of their landscape.

Wordsworth is the best-known English Romantic poet in Japan, but the Japanese have never before had an opportunity to see his original manuscripts, which are being released for the first time by the Wordsworth Trust.

Kakimori Bunko museum owns the most important of Basho’s original manuscripts. The exhibition there will be open to public from September 17 until November 3, with workshops, symposia and music and poetry recitals.

Sobue last year produced a completely new portrait of Wordsworth, one of a series of works on the theme of I wandered, to mark the 200th anniversary of Wordsworth’s Daffodils, said to be the world’s most famous poem.

He based that portrait on the life mask of Wordsworth, created coincidentally in 1815, the year that Daffodils was published. It forms a diptych – two separate paintings – with a stark picture of a sea of daffodils stretching back to infinity. It was exhibited throughout last summer at Rydal Mount.

Based in the Lake District, after graduating from Osaka University of Arts in Japan, Sobue was elected as a member of the Lake Artists Society in 2008. His work has been shown at a number of major exhibitions in London and throughout the UK.

Over the past decade Sobue has developed an original brush hatching technique, using Japanese sumi ink and acrylic, which is inspired by the concept of disegno – a term from the Florentine Renaissance derived from the Italian word for drawing or design.

For Walking Poets, Sobue has created a polyptych work using four aluminium plates, representing a Japanese traditional fusuma-e (sliding door painting). He has portrayed Wordsworth and Basho facing each other across time and space, culture and language and highlighted the two poets’ humble and naturalistic lifestyles, which were reflected in their poetry.

As a way of visually linking the two poets he has depicted a maple tree. The maple appears in poems composed by Basho and it was a tree loved by Wordsworth too; he planted Japanese maple trees in his garden at Rydal Mount.

At the reception, Christopher Wordsworth said: “It has been a privilege to learn about Basho’s work, about which I knew precious little until now. He stands as Wordsworth’s equal, or even greater, in global literature.”

Guests listened to the poetry recital and were treated to canapes created by Kevin Tickle, head chef at the new Forest Side hotel in Grasmere.

The idea for Walking Poets came originally from a collaboration between the Wordsworth Trust and WALK, the University of Sunderland’s Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge research group.


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