Japanese Screen. Taisho era Circa 1920. Pheasant in Deep Forest. Color on Silk.

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Osawa Tokan (b. 1899)

In the Forest

Taisho era, Circa 1920

Two-panel Japanese screen. Ink, color and gofun on silk.

Dimensions: W. 185.5 cm x H. 188 cm (73″ x 74″)

Price: USD 37,000

A major work of oversized proportions combining an intimate, naturalistic depiction of a pheasant within a luxurious profusion of trees, rocks and foliage. It was painted by the Nihonga artist Osawa Tokan. 

Many bird and flower paintings are linked to specific seasons and are used to represent the changing of nature throughout the year. In this work the flowering Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera) marks the season of spring and the nature of the scene. In Japan it is known as Yuki-no-shita, meaning “Under the snow”. They love dark, wet, rocky places yet their flowers conjure a sense of resilience and optimism even amongst the depths of the forest. 

In this complex composition we are presented with a male pheasant whose attention is turned abruptly over its shoulder. The startlingly colorful pheasant provides a dramatic focal point among the subdued shades of brown, yellow and green. The sharply angular pine branch provides a striking point of connection between the upper and lower fields of the painting. The artist cleverly changed the directional movements of the composition, emphasizing the diagonal movement of the pheasant and pine branches as a contrast to the haphazard movement of the light bamboo leaves and the scattered vegetation. The movement of the pheasant as it turns its head sharply adds greatly to the dramatic impact of the work.

Nihonga, which means “Japanese-style painting,” was a response to the Western influence that was prevalent during the era but aimed to maintain and celebrate Japan’s artistic heritage. Nihonga artists during the Taisho period continued to employ traditional Japanese painting techniques and materials though began to experiment with color palettes, compositions and brush techniques. Nihonga painting often continued the tradition of depicting the beauty of the natural world, with a focus on landscapes, flowers, and birds. Artists combined these themes with modern influences, creating a fusion of tradition and modernity. Pheasants, with their striking plumage, are a popular subject in this genre.

Osawa Tokan (b. 1899) studied under Araki Juppo and Hirose Toho. He lived in Tokyo and was most active during the Taisho are early Showa periods. He was good at painting Birds and Flowers and was known for his soft touch with the brush.