Shiokawa Bunrin, Fireflies, a hanging scroll painting

Meiji era, around AD 1875

Scene by a river at dusk

Shiokawa Bunrin (1808-77) was a pupil of Okamoto Toyohiko, a leading painter of the Shijō school based in Kyoto. During much of his career, he was in the service of the Yasui family and had many patrons among the Kyoto aristocracy. Bunrin lived through the Meiji Restoration and so was increasingly influenced by aspects of Western-style painting. He founded the Jounsha art society, which supported many Kyoto artists during this difficult period of change.

This painting is one of a group of similar paintings produced by the Kyoto Shijō school at this time, perhaps the response to a large commission. It is an early example in Japanese art of the naturalistic depiction of darkness. The effect of spatial recession is achieved by a series of planes fading into the dusk and the exquisite silhouettes of the dwarf bamboo are a characteristic motif of the Shijō style. The sober but elegant use of colour would have appealed to the aristocratic taste of the time in Kyoto. It has even been suggested that the depiction of the fireflies using gold paint may have been inspired by early gas-lamps which Bunrin may have seen flickering in the darkness.

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More information


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-2, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1993)


Height: 1304.000 mm
Width: 506.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP ADD625 (1980.7-28.04)



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