Japanese Scroll | Circa 1815 | Pheasants & Spring Blossoms by Kano Morimichi



‘Golden Pheasants under Spring Blossoms’

Kano Tanshin Morimichi 1785-1835  狩野探信守道

Edo period, circa 1815

Hanging scroll. Ink, gofun and mineral pigments on silk.


Scroll: 202 cm x 65 cm (79.5” x 25.5”)

Image: 113 cm x 52 cm (44.5” x 20.5”)


An early 19th century Japanese scroll painting depicting a pair of Chinese pheasants among flowering plants. The male and female pheasants pose on a garden rock surrounded by gorgeous peony blossoms while a flowering plum tree and evergreen bamboo provide further spectacle above. The birds are presented at sharp, intimately engaged angles and their dramatically planted legs further emphasize the sense of movement and interplay. This type of colourful flower and bird painting, featuring auspicious motifs and painted in meticulously accurate, naturalistic style, was very popular at the Chinese imperial court during the Ming period. In particular the works of Lǚ Jì (c. 1429–c. 1505) were greatly admired within Japan and exercised an important influence on the development of the Kano school of painting. In this particular painting, the intricate treatment of space, fine details and brilliant colours are all vestiges of his style. 

The connotations of the paired pheasants – emblems of imperial elegance and nobility – are well matched here with the peony, the ‘Queen of Flowers’ in Japan and symbolic of wealth and distinction. The bamboo carries connotations of steadfastness and longevity, the plum signals the end of winter and the coming spring. The painting served to convey a range of auspicious meaning while being, quite apart from those abstract ideas, a very beautiful and decorative object in and of itself.

Kano Tanshin Morimichi 1785-1835 was the 7th head of the Kajibashi branch of the Kano school. He was an officially appointed painter for the Edo Shogunate and was involved in the production of folding screens presented to Korean envoys. He also painted sliding door panels at Edo castle. In general he is known for his skill at Yamato-e painting, yet also spent a lot of time studying old paintings. He also left behind Ukiyo-e paintings, which were expressly forbidden at the larger Kano schools.

The seal and signature used on this painting are the same as those used by Tanshin on a hand-scroll held in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, titled Copy of Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace. This hand-scroll is dated 1814, so it is fair to assume that this bird and flower work was painted around the same time.

The scroll has recently been conserved and remounted in Kyoto utilizing traditional techniques and craftsmen.