Sparrows in a Plum Tree

Nagasawa Rosetsu 長澤蘆雪 Japanese

Not on view

A common topic in Japanese bird-and-flower painting, sparrows and blossoming plum branches evoke the beginning of spring, which according to the lunar calendar would begin in early February. Rosetsu fills the composition with a profusion of twigs that abruptly twist and turn. The calculated disorder of the plum branches finds its echo in the numerous sparrows, many of which the artist painted in slight variations of similar poses.

Birds or other animals that gaze straight towards the viewer, almost as if they wanted to enter into direct communication with the human observer (such as the pair of sparrows on the lowermost branch), are a visual strategy that Rosetsu employed in many of his paintings, for instance in the diptych of hanging scrolls of cranes, also in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2011.572.2a, b). The inclusion of a rose bush strikes one as unusual, as this flower is not a subject matter commonly found in early modern Japanese painting.

Sparrows in a Plum Tree, Nagasawa Rosetsu 長澤蘆雪 (Japanese, 1754–1799), Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, Japan

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