Suzuki Shōnen, Composing a Poem among the Pines, a hanging scroll painting

Meiji era, AD 1906

This painting is a late masterpiece of the bunjinga, or 'literati painting' tradition, which had flourished in Japan since the late seventeenth century. Japanese literati artists sought to place themselves within the scholarly ink-painting tradition of China, but also to give their works native warmth and emotion. Shōnen (1848-1918) had trained in the Shijō school of Kyoto, but early in his career switched to Chinese poetry and painting. He saw this as a way of resisting the Western artistic influences that were flooding Japan, after the opening of the country to sustained foreign contact in the 1860s.

The present work is remarkable for its size (some 3.5m high) and towering composition, yet the brushwork remains refined. Its subject seems to be the contented solitude of the ageing artist himself as he wanders among the idealized mountains of his imagination. The poem at the top reinforces this feeling:

'For ten leagues, only the shade of pines
A single valley sings with the voice of waters
What sort of man is this holding a staff
Gently walking and considering a poem as he goes?'

The inscription after the poem translates as 'Painted and inscribed on a summer day in 1906 at the Tōkinrō [Tower of the Eastern Brocade - the artist's studio] by Shōnen Senshi'. The seals read 'Suzuki Seiken', 'Shōnen Senshi' and '?-gen'.

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Height: 3511.000 mm
Width: 1422.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JP ADD1062 (1995.4-6.01)



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