Meiji Period Japanese Screen Pair, One Hundred Birds by Hasegawa Gyokujun



One Hundred Birds

Hasegawa Gyokujun (1863-1921)

Meiji period, circa 1900.

Ink, color and gofun on silk.

Dimensions of each screen:

H. 170 cm x W. 190 cm (67’’ x 75”)

Price: USD 62,000

Despite the title, well over 100 birds are represented in this pair of two-fold Japanese screens (the title functions figuratively to convey the idea of a large number). The monumental work is rendered with a comprehensive and highly complex composition which is exquisitely executed and meticulously colored. More a celebration of naturalism than the traditional “One Hundred Birds” paintings which originated in China. This was a subject matter known for its auspicious meaning as much as its actual depiction of nature. These paintings generally had a phoenix (occasionally peacocks) placed in the center, and the other birds paying homage to it. 

In this quintessentially Japanese scene painted by Gyokujun, a couple of long-tailed birds modeled after paradise flycatchers are included; these are traditional auspicious motifs in Oriental bird and flower painting and denote themes such as celebration and enduring generations. In addition there is the playful inclusion of single exotic parrot. Even so, the vast majority of the birds and flowers are native to Japan. Reading the scene from right to left, from spring through to autumn, the overwhelming sense is one of movement and haste. It is almost as if the birds are in a race, with the fleetest leading the way forward. Although these native birds were commonly drawn amongst artists of the Shijo school, rarely were they painted with such drama and dynamism. It is not strictly a depiction of sketched birds whose manner was faithfully handed down through the traditions of the Shijo school. Rather we see Gyokujun seeking and achieving new expressions in the heart of the turbulent Meiji period.  

Hasegawa Gyokujun (1863-1921) was born in Kyoto. He was the eldest son of Hasegawa Gyokuhō, a Shijo school painter who studied under Matsumura Keibun. Gyokujun studied painting under his father and became a prominent member of the Kyoto painting world from a young age. In 1891 he established the ‘Young Painters Social Club’ along with Takeuchi Seiho, Miyake Gogyo and Taniguchi Kokyo. Also in 1891 he was selected as a judge of the Great Private Paintings Exhibition along with Takeuchi Seiho, Yamamoto Shunkyo and Kikuchi Hobun. In addition he won prizes as several national and international expositions, including the Chicago Columbian World Fair (1893), the Fourth National Industrial Exhibition (1895), and the first exhibition of the Nihon Kaiga Kyokai (Japan Painting Association). He was a highly respected and promising artist though he disappeared from the painting world of Kyoto and served as an elementary school art teacher in Otsu.