Magpie on Viburnum Branch
Genga (Japanese, active early 16th century) , in Song tradition
Muromachi period (1392–1573)
early 16th century
Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Image: 18 1/4 in. × 14 in. (46.3 × 35.5 cm)
Overall with mounting: 53 1/2 × 19 1/2 in. (135.9 × 49.5 cm)
Overall with knobs: 53 1/2 × 21 1/2 in. (135.9 × 54.6 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Not on view
Framed by the lush blossoms of the viburnum (Japanese: gamazumi) on which it perches, this long-tailed magpie is depicted with an attention to detail that reflects the reigning ideal of naturalism in the imperial painting academy of the Chinese Southern Song dynasty. Chinese bird-and-flower paintings, treasured by
the Ashikaga shoguns of the fifteenth century, exerted a seminal influence on Japanese painting. Little is known about the artist Genga—identified as such by a seal at lower right, which is also found on a small number of similar paintings—even where or when he lived. Nevertheless, the simplified academic brush manner and strong color suggest an artist of the early sixteenth century. Genga is variously recorded as a follower of Sesshū (1420–1506) and Sōtan (1413–1481), who served as official painter to the shogunate in the second half of the fifteenth century, and to whom many bird-and-flower paintings in the academic style have been traditionally attributed.
A fine set of screen paintings of flowers and birds in a landscape in the collection of the Freer-Sackler Galleries, Washington, D.C., also bear Genga seals. Among the screens’ motifs are a a viburnum bush and a pair of colorful long-tailed magpies, reminding us that the magpie, though a rare species in Japan, was common to the repertoire of East Asian bird-and-flower painting.