(Japanese, Tokyo (Edo) 1760–1849 Tokyo (Edo))
Edo period (1615–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
21 5/8 x 33 3/8 in. (54.9 x 84.8 cm)
Charles Stewart Smith Collection, Gift of Mrs. Charles Stewart Smith, Charles Stewart Smith Jr., and Howard Caswell Smith, in memory of Charles Stewart Smith, 1914
Not on view
The bantam cock on the right aggressively faces off with his companion to the left as it eyes us, the viewers, as if to ask whether it should engage in battle. In the trademark fashion of Hokusai animal paintings, the expressions of the birds convey humanlike emotions. Their plumage is meticulously rendered, suggesting adeluxe commission. From ancient times in Japan, gamecocks (Japanese: shamo) were specifically bred as fighting birds. There has long been debate among specialists over the authorship of this painting, due in part to the overly elaborate signature on the painting, the likes of which has been seen on no other work associated with the artist. The artist’s age is given as seventy-nine, and the work is dated to the sixth month of 1838, which is an entirely plausible date of execution. The signature reads “Saki no Hokusai Gakyō Rōjin (Formerly Hokusai, the Old Man Mad about Painting), Nakajima Gozaemon Fujiwara Iitsu.” Though Nakajima was Katsushika Hokusai’s actual (adoptive) family name, Gozaemon was not among given names used by the artist. The variant of the Katsushika seal seen here, however, matches that found on other accepted paintings and suggests the work was created in the context of Hokusai and his studio. Whatever the circumstances of its production, this is a masterpiece of avian painting created in the distinctive style of Hokusai.