Meiji Period Japanese Screen, Autumn Grasses on Silver-Leaf.



Autumn Grasses


Meiji period (1868-1912)

Six-fold Japanese screen. Ink, pigment, gofun and silver-leaf on paper

Inscription: Unsen Hitsu

Seal: Unread


H. 170 cm x W. 366 cm (67’’ x 144’’)


The waving grasses of autumn appearing on an unobstructed horizon are usually associated with the Musahino Plain. Once wild, the plain of Musashi is now a densely populated area of Northern Tokyo. Poetic traditions, dating back to the tenth century, associate the vast plain with the season of autumn. Typically the moon is featured in the artwork though here, the shimmering silver leaf preserves a coolness that evokes moonlight on an autumn evening.

By staggering and overlapping the grasses and adding partially obscured autumn wildflowers throughout, the artist achieves a surprising degree of spatial depth within the constraints imposed by the screens’s flat, gilded surface. Painted directly onto the gilded paper, the scene required vigorous, demanding brushwork to create the compositional tension and balance.

Although the artist remains anonymous both the subject matter and techniques find strong parallels within the Rinpa school of art. The Rinpa school represents the fullest expression of the highly decorative approach to nature painting in Japan. Rinpa is regarded by some as “quintessentially Japanese,” especially when compared with Japan’s Chinese-influenced schools of painting. In this work the artist the artist has painted entirely without outlines using the ‘mokkotsu’ or boneless technique. The artist has also made use of the ‘tarashikomi’ pooling technique for the flowering kudzu vine which is scattered through the grasses. Both techniques are closely associated with the Rinpa painting tradition.