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Rabbits and autumn grasses, a 6-fold screen painting

 

Height: 1540.000 mm
Width: 3270.000 mm

Presented as a tribute to Laurence Binyon

Asia JA JP ADD88 (1933.9-29.03)

    Rabbits and autumn grasses, a 6-fold screen painting

    Japan
    Edo period, mid-18th century AD

    This screen was probably one of a pair. Twelve rabbits are shown in different activities, mainly feeding but also chasing each other, and one is amorously climbing onto another's back. It is unusual to find rabbits featuring in such a large-scale composition: they are usually shown as part of a bigger scheme, associated with the fourth year of the twelve-year zodiac cycle (1999 was the most recent rabbit year).

    The painting is enhanced by the variety of colouring of the rabbits' fur, which is painted with great delicacy. Their eyes, each with a black pupil, give them great animation. The background has a pattern of summer and autumn grasses swaying in the breeze. This is reminiscent of pictures of Musashino Plain, a subject relating to Ise monogatari ('Tales of Ise') and other classical literary sources. The sumptuous gold background has a solid gold hill and gold leaf scattered at top and bottom to produce a shimmering effect.

    The screen is unsigned but the faultless overall design of the painting and the shading of the rabbits' bodies suggest that it was painted by an artist of the Rimpa school working in the mid-eighteenth century, the generation after Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716).

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

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

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