Offered by: Thomsen Gallery
9 East 63rd Street New York City, NY 10065 , United States Call Seller 212.288.2588


Peahen and Palm, 1941

Price Upon Request
  • Description
    Mochizuki Shunkō
    Peahen and Palm, 1941
    Two-panel folding screen; mineral colors and ink on silk sprinkled with gold flakes
    Size 62½ x 69½ in. (158.8 x 176.5)

    Sealed at lower right Shunkō; the reverse with a gold-sprinkled paper label at top right inscribed Shōwa kanoto-mi shūgetsu Shunkō hitsu (Brushed by Shunkō in autumn 1941), sealed Shunkō

    This screen, by one of the most celebrated and productive Japanese women painters of the last 130 years, is a novel rendering of a subject that fascinated several leading painters during the first half of the twentieth century.

    Not native to Japan, peacocks had been occasionally depicted in the country’s earlier art, particularly because of their use in Buddhist iconography, but the artists involved had not usually seen an actual living specimen. Mochizuki Shunkō here presents her patron with an individual member of the Pavo genus, with subdued coloration even for a female bird and lacking the familiar flamboyant head-crest. Given the prevalence during the 1930s of Japanese paintings depicting imported breeds of other creatures, including rare cockatoos and dogs such as German shepherds and Irish red and white setters, we can imagine that this screen was a special commission, intended as a portrait celebrating the acquisition of a prize bird that had been specifically bred to order.

    Perhaps attracted by the offer of a snack, the peahen strides confidently out from beneath a group of dwarf palm trees and two other non-native plants that further underline the owner’s taste for the rare and exotic. Both appear to be members of the Araceae or a related family, each with a type of long, thin inflorescence called a spadix, enclosed in a leaf-like bract; the one above the peahen is perhaps a hanishiki (Heart of Jesus, Caladium bicolor), a species native to Latin America. Bright, bold green and red mineral pigments contrast with the peahen’s more subtle hues, the feathers intricately delineated and the “eyes” in the tail enhanced by a matte gold wash. Most unusually, the silk ground has been liberally sprinkled with flakes of gold on the front, in contrast to the standard contemporary practice of applying gold paint to the reverse to produce a shimmering background.

    The artist was renowned throughout her long career primarily as an accomplished painter of bird-and-plant subjects, inventively blending closely observed naturalistic depiction with the flat, decorative effects characteristic of the Rinpa lineage of artists. As we can see from a selection of her exhibited works from around the same time as the present screen which is dated 1941, like her contemporaries she successfully combined these diverse elements to create a distinctive, compelling, and atmospheric period style.

    A native of Yamanashi Prefecture, in 1913 Mochizuki Shunkō traveled up to Tokyo planning to become a doctor but her talent for painting was spotted by the art historian Nakagawa Tadayori (1873–1928) who encouraged her to enroll at Tokyo School of Art, where she studied under a cohort of distinguished teachers including Kawai Gyokudō (1873–1957), Terasaki Kōgyō (1866–1919), and Kobori Tomoto (1864–1931). After graduating with distinction in 1919 she continued to train with Yūki Somei (1875–1957) and from 1920 until 1927 served as an instructor at the Tōkyō Joshi Shihan Gakkō, a government school for women artists.

    Mochizuki first showed her work at national level at the Third Teiten Exhibition in 1921, going on to participate in the Teiten and its successors on numerous occasions, the last in 1977, receiving top prizes in 1928 and 1929 and serving as a juror for both wartime and postwar exhibitions. She also helped to establish the Nihonga-in (Japan Art Academy) in 1938, winning its Grand Prize in 1958. After the war she continued to teach at leading women’s art colleges and served as President of the Nihon Bijutsuka Renmei (Japan Artists’ League). Major retrospective exhibitions of her work were held in 1977 at Central Museum Ginza, Tokyo, and in 2013 at Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art.
  • More Information
    Documentation: Signed
    Period: 1920-1949
    Condition: Good.
    Styles / Movements: Asian
    Incollect Reference #: 699339
  • Dimensions
    W. 69.5 in; H. 62.5 in;
    W. 176.53 cm; H. 158.75 cm;
Message from Seller:

Thomsen gallery, located in a townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, offers important Japanese paintings and works of art to collectors and museums worldwide. The gallery specializes in Japanese screens and scrolls; in early Japanese tea ceramics from the medieval through the Edo periods; in masterpieces of ikebana bamboo baskets; and in gold lacquer objects.

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