Exhibitions/ Art Object

Parody of the Four Accomplishments

Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891)
late Edo (1615–1868) or Meiji (1868–1912) period
second half of the 19th century
Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gold leaf on paper
Overall (each screen): 47 1/2 x 112 1/2 in. (120.7 x 285.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1951
Accession Number:
51.89.1, .2
Not on view
This painting is inspired by one of the most celebrated works of Japanese genre painting: a work known as the Hikone Screen. Illustrated here are the “Four Accomplishments” necessary for well-cultivated gentlemen in ancient China—the musical instrument qin (Japanese: koto), the board game weiqi (Japanese: go), calligraphy, and painting. The Four Accomplishments were a favored painting subject beginning in the Muromachi period (1392–1573) but here appears as a parody—for instance, writing a love letter (or poems) instead of calligraphy.

Zeshin’s reinterpretation, more than two centuries after the original, reconstructs some of the mysterious feel of the Hikone Screen by arranging meaningful-looking figures engaged in various pursuits within the same space. Nevertheless, the eye-pleasing impression has been attained by a careful compositional arrangement in which elements are ordered in a pyramid-like shape toward the center, and by the use of a variety of colors, from vivid to subtle, contrasting with the plain gold background. A few versions of this screen by Zeshin exist, each with distinct variations of the figures and setting.
Signature: .1: Lower left in black ink: Zeshin
One seal in red: Zeshin; Tairyūkyo

.2: Lower right in black ink: copied after an old painting, Zeshin.
Two seals in red: Zeshin, Tairyūkyo
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