- Museum number
Object: Utsusemi 空蟬 (The Shell of the Locust)
Series: Genji monogatari 源氏物語 (Tale of Genji)
Painting, mounted as a panel, one of set of three (with JP 57 & 58) originally from a screen painting. Prince Genji paying night visit to quarters of Utsusemi. Ink, colours and gold leaf on paper.
- Production date
Height: 56.90 centimetres
Width: 36.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
['The Shell of the Locust' Chapter from 'The Tale of Genji']
Chapter 3, 'Utsusemi': Genji pays a nocturnal visit to the quarters of Utsusemi and Nokiba no Ogi. He finds only Utsusemi's discarded robe, just like the shell of a locust (her name). (Label copy, TTC 1996)
In set with 1913,0501,0.72
In set with 1913,0501,0.73
Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 1
Paintings of just three chapters of 'The Tale of Genji' - 'Utsusemi', 'Nowaki', and 'Wakana' - survive. Each of these is executed on two sheets of paper tall enough to suggest that they were actually formed by cutting and pasting together works originally painted on smaller screens (in an attempt, possibly, to salvage works that had been damaged).
Each screen shows a single scene from 'The Tale of Genji'. The complete set is thought to have consisted of twelve scenes. The condition of the three surviving works is generally quite good, and all have great charm despite a few weak points such as the unnaturalness of showing only part of the face of the princess in 'Wakana' or the infelicity in the gold clouds at the upper left of 'Nowaki', one spot where the cutting and pasting is particularly evident.
The scenes depicted in the individual screens are:
'Utsusemi': Utsusemi's younger brother guides Genji to the room where his sister sleeps with her companion Nokiba-no-Ogi, but Utsusemi immediately catches sight of Genji's shadow and flees silently. None the wiser, Genji throws off his cloak and, dressed only in a single unlined kimono, slips behind the curtain where Nokiba and her women attendants are fast asleep.
'Nowaki': Yugiri gets his first glimpse of Lady Murasaki when the bamboo screen that she had been sitting behind is tossed aside by a typhoon wind. He sees her smiling as she watches her ladies-in-waiting attempt to secure it again. However, in this work Yugiri himself does not appear; the painting focuses only on the ladies-in-waiting fussing about in a hallway. Paintings of Lady Murasaki watching her attendants secure this bamboo screen are common, but only a few exclude Yugiri.
'Wakana': In this scene, the third princess Nyosan's Chinese cat has upset the bamboo screen that shielded the princess from view as she watched a group of young nobles enjoying a game of ball beneath a canopy of cherry trees in full bloom. The cat's misstep allows Kashiwagi a brief glimpse of Nyosan. This painting, depicting the fateful first encounter of these two characters, is well known and highly regarded.
Although all three works are traditionally attributed to the Muromachi-period artist Tosa Mitsuyoshi (1539-1613), the true identity of the artist is actually unknown. The exquisite detailing of facial features with a thin brush and the gently overlapping curves of the tree trunks suggest someone trained in the methods of the Tosa school, likely an artist who worked closely with Tosa Mitsuyoshi. This treatment of the faces and trees also suggests that the artist was not Mitsuyoshi himself, but rather one of his outstanding students. The figures, with their occasional reversals of right and left in, for instance, the 'Utsusemi' chapter, do, however, closely resemble those in Mitsuyoshi's 'Sketch for the Tale of Genji', in the Izumi City Kubo Memorial Museum of Art.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006 Oct 13-2007 Feb 11, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
2010 Jun-Oct, BM Japanese Galleries, ‘Japan from prehistory to the present’
2010 Oct- 2011 Feb, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Genji monogatari 源氏物語
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The collection of Japanese and Chinese paintings belonging to Arthur Morrison was purchased by Sir William Gwynne-Evans, who presented it to the British Museum in 1913.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.56 (Japanese Painting Number)