Surrounded by billowing gold clouds, a large, gilded bridge sweeps across an expanse of dark blue water. A group of statuesque, beautifully dressed women and their young attendants sit or stand by the railings, preparing to toss painted fans into the river or watching already-discarded fans floating on the current below. The scene perhaps alludes to the custom of casting used summer fans into the river to celebrate the arrival of cooler autumn weather. Two bamboo baskets filled with stones, which protect the shoreline from erosion, are seen at the lower-right edge and, like the bridge, are fancifully depicted in gold.
All of the fans—both those held in the figures’ hands and those floating on the river—bear painted scenes and designs, either narrative or decorative, revealing the unidentified artist’s Kano-school training. The women’s full, oblong faces and clearly delineated features also support such an attribution.
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Detail: figures on the bridge
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Title:Women on a Bridge Tossing Fans into a River
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:early 17th century
Medium:Six-panel folding screen; ink, color, gold, and gold leaf on paper
Dimensions:Image: 60 1/4 in. × 11 ft. 7 13/16 in. (153 × 355.2 cm) Overall: 66 3/4 in. × 12 ft. 2 1/8 in. (169.5 × 371.2 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Surrounded by billowing gold clouds, a golden bridge sweeps across an expanse of dark blue water. Unlike the earlier Willows and Bridge (cat. no. 80), this screen has as its primary focus a group of eighteen stately women and their four young attendants. The figures stand or sit by the railings of the bridge; some watch the painted fans that float on the current below, while others appear about to cast their fans into the water. Two gilded bamboo baskets filled with stones, which protect the shoreline from soil erosion, can be seen at the edge of the river.
The subject of this dramatic composition could perhaps have been identified by the scene depicted on the companion screen, now missing. The absent screen most likely depicted a house of pleasure. If this is the case, the women on the bridge would be professional courtesans, and the golden bridge would signify a path to "paradise on earth." Here, on what was originally the left screen, we are presented with three groups of women: five figures at the extreme right viewing the fans on the water and two groups of women clustered along the railings in the center. Two of the women look across the bridge, creating a visual link with the other figures. Two attendants approach from the extreme left. One carries a long pipe, the other a tray laden with a box and two bottles. The attendant jauntily balancing the pipe over his shoulder may be a boy, as the red jacket appears to be a jinbaori (a jacket worn in military camps), a strictly male accoutrement.
All the fans—both those held and those floating on the river—-have painted scenes and designs. Among the images is a famous episode from chapter 34, "Wakana jō " (New Herbs: Part One), of the Genji monogatari, which tells of the game that led to the tragic love affair between Genji's young wife and the son of his best friend. The fans also depict flowers of different seasons, painted in bright colors on gold, and three feature subjects frequently chosen by Kano-school artists: a kingfisher on a tree branch and a family of musk cats among carnations (see also cat. no. 60 ). A fan painting of a large moon rising out of autumn grasses presents the popular yamato-e theme of Musashino, the plain west of Edo. Another, showing Mount Fuji and the beach of Miho lined with pines, typifies the traditional genre of meisho-e (pictures of famous places).
Ōgi (folding fans) are thought to have evolved from the round Chinese fan during the Early Heian period. They served a variety of functions. Their primary use was, of course, to cool the owner in the heat of summer. Open, they could serve as trays. One type of fan had iron ribs that could be used by warriors as impromptu weapons. Fans were employed in games, and they were important props in the performing arts. While the earliest extant examples of painted fans elate to the mid-twelfth century, the earliest surviving illustrations of fans—from the Genji monogatari—date to the first quarter of the century.
One of the important duties of painters in the service of the emperor or shogun was to make presentations of their fans at the beginning of each year. Ōgi eshi, painters of fans intended for the general public, and ōgiya, shops that produced and sold fans, became staples of city life. Records of ōgiya began to appear in the second half of the fourteenth century, and the shops were included in paintings of cities, such as rakuchū -rakugai screens (cat. no. 139).
While used fans were generally discarded at the end of the summer, they were often kept for their sentimental value and pasted into albums or on folding screens. A screen ornamented with fans served as a kind of miniature museum, where many paintings could be viewed at the same time. The earliest pictorial evidence for the practice of arranging fans on screens is a scene from the Boki ekotoba, an illustrated biography of the monk Kakunyo dating to 1482 in the collection of Nishi Honganji, Kyoto. Many screens with painted fans—some of which are not actually fans but fan-shaped paintings—have background designs of autumn grasses. It was also popular to paste (or paint) fans over a background of flowing water, a type of imagery that may have evolved from the medieval pastime of casting fans into the water to float on the surface. References to such screens first appear in literature of the fifteenth century.
Screens painted with the fans-and-stream motif were often installed in shogunal residences. A story that appears in the Ansai zui-hitsu (Essays by Ansai), a collection of essays on miscellaneous subjects by the antiquarian Ise Sadatake ( 1717–1784), suggests one explanation for this fashion. According to the tale, an Ashikaga shogun of the Muromachi period was on his way to the Kyoto temple of Tenryūji when one of his pages accidentally dropped his master's fan into the Ōi River from the bridge, Togetsukyō. Taking their cue from the page, all the other members of the shogun's retinue followed suit and tossed their fans into the water. It is not unlikely that the story derives from a painting. On the other hand, the tale itself may have inspired the creation of a type of screen composition known as senmen nagashi (fans afloat).
As noted above, several of the floating fans reveal the artist's Kano-school training. Most early examples of genre painting are associated with Kano artists, and the school's contributions to the development of genre imagery are widely recognized. The full, oblong faces and clearly delineated features of the women in the Burke screen also support an attribution to a Kano artist.
The figures on the bridge wear their hair flowing loosely or tied simply at the nape of the neck. Both styles, prevalent among young women during the Momoyama period, predate the more elaborate coiffures that appear in the genre paintings of a slightly later period. The presence of the long smoking pipes tells us that the screen could not have been painted before 1605, when smoking first became popular following its introduction by a Spanish missionary visiting Japan in 1601.
The designs on the women's clothing are dominated by stripes, small patterns, and overall tie-dyed motifs. The sharply contrasting patterns, segregated from other motifs in large areas at the top and bottom, were known as kata suso (shoulders and hems); these predate the more ostentatious, eye-catching designs that appear in paintings beginning in the early seventeenth century. This change in fashion is documented by records of orders kept by the ancestors of Ogata Kōrin (cat. nos. 132, 133), who owned a highly successful textile shop, Kariganeya, which produced material for kimonos and catered to the shoguns and members of the royal family. An account of the shop's commissions from 1602 and 1603 reflects the popular demand for kata suso patterns. Kariganeya's record book includes notes on the most fashionable colors for garments at the time: white and light blue are the most frequently mentioned. The browns, dark reds, and other somber colors that also appear in the Burke screen forecast the change in textile design that took place during the second decade of the 1600s.
In summation, this screen, one of a small number of genre paintings dating to the early Edo period, may be attributed to an anonymous Kano artist active at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Curiously, two other screens with similar compositions are also missing their companion screens. See Kobayashi Tadashi 1994, no. 8; and Takeda Tsuneo 1997, no. 157.  For documentary materials on fans, see Miyajima Shin'ichi 1993.  Komatsu Shigemi 1985a, p. 13.  Miyajima Shin'ichi 1993, p. 46.  Zōtei kojitsu sōsho 1929, p. 258.  See Miyajima Shin'ichi 1993, p. 41.  See, for example, Singer et al. 1998, no. 233.  Tobacco and Salt Museum 1985, p. 18.  I am indebted to Joyce Denny, Senior Research Assistant in the Department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum, for reminding me of the Kariganeya records; see Yamane Yūzō 1962a, pp. 10–19.  Nagasaki Iwao 1993, p. 89.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Flowing Streams: Scenes from Japanese Arts and Life," December 21, 2006–June 3, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, cat. no. 76.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , pp. 194–195, cat. no. 220.
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