Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891)
Two-panel folding screen; ink, lacquer, and silver leaf on paper
26 1/8 x 69 in. (66.4 x 175.3 cm)
The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.137)
Autumn, with its melancholy mood and its aura of sadness, grief, loneliness, and even death, has always evoked a sense of regret for the passing of time. On this two-panel screen, a variety of autumn grasses and flowers touched with dewdrops are brushed in ink, with grasshoppers and crickets painted in lacquer against a muted ground of silver leaf. The plain paper surface has been left in reserve for the full moon. A few strokes of ink wash across the surface of the moon suggest a light haze.
This screen is one of the finest known from the hand of the nineteenth-century artist Shibata Zeshin. Zeshin began his prolific and versatile career at eleven as an apprentice to a lacquer craftsman. A master of design, he was soon acclaimed as the leading artist in this painstaking and time-consuming medium, especially known for his dazzling lacquer boxes. Zeshin went on to train as a painter in a naturalistic style that shows clearly the growing influence of European realism. In his old age, during the 1870s and 1880s, Zeshin added an unusual new technique to his repertoire. In response to the popularity of oils in the Meiji period, Zeshin began to paint with lacquer on both paper and wooden panels. The naturally dark colors and thick lustrous surface texture of the lacquerused on this composition for the black and brown bodies of the insectsadded to the illusion of Western pigments.