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Maruyama ōkyo, Cracked ice, a 2-fold screen painting


Height: 605.000 mm
Width: 1820.000 mm

Maekawa Family Collection (box inscription)

Asia JA JP ADD723 (1982.10-12.01)

    Maruyama ōkyo, Cracked ice, a 2-fold screen painting

    Edo period, AD 1780s

    A cool view for a summer tearoom

    Low two-fold screens (furosaki byōbu) such as this were used in the Tea Ceremony as a backdrop to enhance the precious utensils placed on the tatami mats of the tearoom, and also to shield the hearth from draughts. The painting is a witty example of the incorporation of Western-style 'vanishing point' perspective into Japanese art. As with many Japanese paintings the viewer would be kneeling at the same floor level on which the screen was placed, and the ice would appear to stretch out in front of them.

    Maruyama ōkyo (1733-95) was starting out on his career at a time when Rangaku ('Dutch Studies') was becoming increasingly influential among certain Japanese scholars and artists. One of his earliest jobs was with the Kyoto toy merchant, Nakajima Kambei, designing prints and paintings for use with nozoki-karakuri, novelty viewing machines. These images featured Western-style perspective systems, typically with architectural lines converging towards a low horizon. ōkyo and his many later followers, such as Mori Ippō, went on to produce many paintings that incorporated this perspective system. Here, in an apparently very simple painting, each line has been carefully arranged and painted to suggest the cracks in a flat surface of ice stretching away from the viewer. The feeling of coolness would have been most welcome in the muggy heat of a small, enclosed tearoom at the height of summer.

    The signature and the seal both read 'ōkyo'

    I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)

    L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


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