Autumn Millet and Small Birds

Attributed to Kano Sanraku (Japanese, 1559–1635)

Edo period (1615–1868)
Pair of eight-panel foldingscreens; ink, color, and gold on gilt paper
Image (each screen): 33 1/2 x 134 1/2 in. (85.1 x 341.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1957
Accession Number:
57.157.1, .2
  • Description

    These screens celebrate the rich harvest of autumn. The ripening millet attracts small birds—sparrows, buntings, and titmice—clamoring to satisfy their appetites. In contrast to the natural motifs, objects such as the bamboo fences, the net to capture small birds, and the scarecrow rattles hanging from ropes may evoke in the viewer’s imagination a garden or farm in the autumn. Although the details are rendered realistically, the scene is composed of images that have a long history as traditional subject matter: grain and sparrows, millet and quail, and autumn grasses. These motifs appear repeatedly in pottery, lacquers, and metalwork, as well as in painting. To Japanese viewers of the past, these seemingly decorative motifs would have brought to mind a deeply ingrained set of associations with poetry, some of which went beyond the merely visual. The motif of quails, for example, would have reminded them immediately of the poetic image of a quail’s shrill cry, which traditionally conveyed a sense of autumnal isolation.