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The Legend of the Laughing Buddha

by By Lynne Pearson, Curatorial Assistant, East Asian Art


Laughing Buddha , Seven Lucky Gods , Hotei , East Asian Art , Walter and Vanida Davison , Hou-Mei Sung , Enduring Beauty: East Asian Lacquer , Tsuchiya Gado , prints

While working remotely during the pandemic, the East Asian Art department completed several exciting projects. In addition to producing the catalog Enduring Beauty: East Asian Lacquer, Hou-mei Sung, Curator of East Asian Art and I accessioned several interesting donations to the collection.

Earlier this year, longtime donors Walter and Vanida Davison gifted the Art Museum this beautiful 20th century Japanese painting depicting the Buddhist deity Hotei from their family art collection. Hou-mei was able to identify the artist as Tsuchiya Gado, a Japanese artist active in the Meiji era (1868—1912) with few surviving paintings today.

Hotei was a legendary Chinese monk who lived around the 10th century. His name translates to "cloth sack," referring to the bag of possessions he carries. He is distinguished from other Buddhist deities by his happy personality and eccentric wandering lifestyle. In Japan, Hotei became one of the “Seven Lucky Gods”, symbolizing prosperity and abundance. He is also popularly known as the “Laughing Buddha” due to his laughing or smiling countenance.

In this scroll, Hotei is depicted as a large-bellied monk with a smiling face, wearing a loose robe, and carrying a large sack tied to a walking stick over his shoulder. The striking image of Hotei done by this artist who has few surviving works makes a fascinating addition to Art Museum’s collection.