Early 20th Century Japanese Screen Pair. Fig Trees by Hiroe Kashu (b.1890).



Fig Trees

Hiroe Kashu (b.1890)

Taisho era, circa 1920

Pair of six-fold Japanese screens

Ink, malachite, gold and silver on paper


Each Screen measures H. 67’’ x W. 148” (170 cm x 376 cm)

In this major work we are presented with a complex composition of fig trees spanning across an expansive pair of six-panel Japanese screens. Laden with fruit, the scene is set in the depths of summer. The immersive scene creates a sense of being under the protective canopy of the enormous trees and elicits feelings of refreshment, respite and abundance. The broad, deeply lobed leaves are dappled with gold and speckled with droplets of silver, while diffused sunlight reflects off the smooth, white bark. The scene runs unbroken from right to left and abandoned prevailing compositional practices by treating all 12 panels as a continuous surface, paying no heed to the division between right and left hand screens. 

The artist, Hiroe Kashu, has employed, on an almost unprecedented scale, the tarashikomi or “dripped in” mode of picture making. The leaves, fruit, trunks and branches are all detailed by the tarashikomi technique. The visual appeal of this method lies in the variegated and organic surface effects that result from the fusion of two different layers of paint, creating an effect of pooled colors with softly blurred edges. The interaction between the pigments is, at least to some degree, beyond the control of the painter, and the patterns that ensue add immeasurably to the visual interest of the painting. The successful tarashikomi effect also relies upon rapid application, as the second infusion of paint needs to be introduced before the initial layer dries. The enormous scale and complex layering of this work only magnifies the difficulty. The entire painting surface has been heavily sized before the application of ink and pigment. Sizing is used to reduce the paper’s tendency to absorb liquid, with the goal of allowing inks and paints to remain on the surface of the paper and to dry there, rather than be absorbed into the paper. The tarashikomi technique is part of the Rinpa style of decorative arts and was initially pioneered in the early 17th century by Tawaraya Sotatsu. Most latter day Rinpa painters selectively applied the technique to local areas of a painting – in the case of this pair of fig tree screens it might be understood as less a technique than a total mode of picture making.

Hiroe Kashu was born in Kyoto in 1890. He graduated from the Kyoto University of the Arts in 1908 and then the Kyoto Municipal School of Painting in 1912. Whilst still a student, he was chosen to exhibit works at the Japan Art Academy’s national Bunten exhibitions. He first participated in 1911 and 1912 and received commendations on both works. He further exhibited in 1915, 1917, 1921, 1924 and 1927. After this he moved to Tokyo and became a portraiture artist. 

The screens have recently been completely remounted in Kyoto utilizing traditional techniques and craftsmen.