Rats on a Scholar’s Desk

Nagasawa Rosetsu 長澤蘆雪 Japanese

Not on view

A trio of rats crawls upon and under a scholar’s low red-lacquer table, with piles of stitch-bound books scattered over its surface and beneath. A ceramic vase holds peacock and hawk feathers and a stem of red coral, all appropriate for a decoration of a desk of a literatus. But spiders have spun webs, suggesting it has been a long while since anyone consulted these tomes.

Punctilious brushwork creates an effect that is at once realistic yet decorative. This composition, so colorful and playful, is quite unlike anything else in Rosetsu’s known corpus (though the full range of the artist’s output remains to be investigated), and seems to be inspired by Shanghai-style paintings or woodblock prints and book illustrations popular in the late Edo period, which had been transmitted through Nagasaki. The polychromy seems to correspond to works of the artist’s Hiroshima period (1794–95) and shortly after, by which time he had a cultivated a wealthy clientele for colorful paintings on silk, for example the Mount Hōrai paintings of this period and the Tokyo National Museum’s “Chinese Beauty.”

Rats on a Scholar’s Desk, Nagasawa Rosetsu 長澤蘆雪 (Japanese, 1754–1799), Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, Japan

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