Cat & Hydrangea
Two-fold Japanese Nihonga Screen.
Ink, pigment and gofun on silk
Late Meiji, Circa 1910.
Signature: Hison Hitsu
Upper Seal: Toushi
Lower Seal: Gyojo Senshi
H. 66” x W. 67.5” (168 cm x 172 cm)
In Japanese Nihonga painting, the animal world captures the imagination of artists and audience alike. Nihonga masters composed the beauty of the animal world with a reverence for nature, all living things, and the fragility of life. In this scene, amid the lush colors of a Japanese garden during rainy season, a cat watches a sparrow intently. Hydrangea bushes heavy with blooming heads glisten in the sunlight and peek through the bamboo fence. The cat’s alert pose pulls our eyes upward with its line of site. There, a nonchalant sparrow is washing in a bamboo duct, the water from which fills the pond. The artist perfectly catches the nuances and subtle movement of the cat and sparrow – which are anatomically correct and realistic in behavior. The fast flowing water and its impact on the pond below indicate the inherent wetness of the season while the slightly browned edges of the blooms and the golden glow surrounding the sparrow allude to intermittent bursts of intense sunshine.
The artist has used a number of different techniques to bring the scene to life, indicating the painting’s closeness to the beginnings of Japanese Nihonga. The rich black ink of the cat’s back and tail have been rendered with a wash technique without perceptible edges or lines (morotai), contrasted against the traditional fine-line detailing of the underbody. The green leaves have been painted with thick, raised pigment mixed with mica imparting a sense of naturalism and three-dimensionality. The tarashimkomi technique is clearly evident on the duct and its wooden supports. The bamboo fence utilizes a combination of traditional line and modern wash techniques and silver mica highlights the movement of water both on the pond and in the duct. The effect is at once visually brilliant and overflowing with realistic detail.
The screen has recently been restored and remounted in Kyoto utilizing traditional techniques and craftsmen.