Shimomura Kanzan, Diogenes, a hanging scroll painting

Meiji era, AD 1903-5

An aged man in a white robe, with white hair and beard, sits clasping his knees, lost in thought. Above him can be seen the rim of the barrel in which he sits. This is the Greek philosopher Diogenes (about 400-325 BC), nicknamed 'the mad Socrates' for his eccentric behaviour, such as making his home in a tub. The painting is done mainly in ink, with only touches of colour, true to the Japanese ink painting tradition. The face, however, is more Western in its features.

Shimomura Kanzan (1873-1930) came to London in 1903 to study watercolour technique for two years, one of the few Nihonga artists to travel to Europe. He was treated kindly by the novelist Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), to whom he gave eight works (including this scroll), all now in The British Museum collections.

Kanzan's teacher in Japan, Kanō Hōgai (1828-88), had used a Western-style image of Hippocrates as the basis for a painting of the Buddhist figure Bodhidharma (Japanese: Daruma). Kanzan's work reverses this, using a Japanese technique for a European subject. It epitomises the complex cross-fertilization of ideas between Japan and the West that was occurring in the Meiji era (1868-1912).

The signature reads 'Kanzan' and the seal 'Soshin'.

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More information


I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan-2, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1993)


Height: 1313.000 mm
Width: 720.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JP 2290 (1913.5-1.0585)


Arthur Morrison Collection
Gift of Sir W. Gwynne-Evans, Bt.


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