‘Group of Koi’ | Japanese scroll painting | Matsunaga Tensho (1897-1945)



Group of carp

Gunri no zu   郡鯉 之 圖

Matsunaga Tensho (1897-1945)

Hanging scroll; ink, colour and gold on silk.

Painting inscription: Tensho 天章

Painting seals:

Matsu in  

Tensho 天章 

Box inscription: Tensho Jitsu Kinsho  天章    謹書

Box seals:

Matsunaga Jitsu In  松永 實 印

Tensho  天章


Scroll: 203 cm x  90 cm (80” x 35.5”)

Image: 167 cm x 71 cm (66” x 28”)


This painting captures a shoal of carp majestically swirling through water. The artist, Matsunaga Tensho, paints the scene with a dedication to naturalism through shasei: a technique based on direct observation of nature. Carp or koi have been painted in Japan in many contexts since the Muromachi period, but depicting them in such a realistic manner derives from the influence of the Maruyama school of painting. Shades of gold, brown, and orange lend the bodies of the carp a soft yet resonant glow. The background washes of ink and gold further enhance the radiant effect. The perpetual movement of the koi, their underwater environment, even the spruce-green brocade, are all designed to induce feelings of coolness and refreshment during the summer months.

The inside of the original storage box bears a seal which notes that on July 17, 1929, the painting changed hands from the deceased Kunihiko to Kakuin.

Matsunaga Tensho (1897-1945) was born in Gifu Prefecture. Tensho first studied painting under the Shijo School painter Kawamura Kobun. Later he apprenticed in Tokyo under the Maruyama School painter Kawabata Gyokusho. A skilled naturalist in the bird-and-flower tradition, Tensho became renowned for his painting of koi or carp. A frequent exhibitor, his paintings won many awards and the patronage of the Imperial Court. He was a member of the Teikoku Kaiga Kyokai (Imperial Painting Society), the Bijutsu Kenseikai (Fine Art Research Association), the Nihongakai (Japanese Painting Association), the Nihon Bijutsu Kyokai (Japan Art Association), and the Tenshinkai (an art association of Kawabata Gyokusho’s students, the Tenshin Society). Tensho also became noted as a Matcha Tea Ceremony master.