Girl and Parrot (Ōmu to shōjo)

Kamiya Kokei Japanese

Not on view

This large-format hanging-scroll painting—six-feet high and over three feet wide—portrays a young girl, almost life-size, at the moment she is reaching up to offer a single grape to a white parrot in a cage; she clasps the rest of the bunch of grapes in her left hand. Her neatly trimmed hair and bangs were a popular hairstyle for girls of the time, and her healthy adolescent complexion is captured by the faintest tinge of pigment on her cheek. Adding an element of pizzazz to the composition, the girl is shown garbed in a cotton kimono dyed in the kasuri, or ikat, technique, with a colorful red and yellow tie-dyed obi. She wears adult-size wooden geta with rice-straw cords. The bird cage hangs from a lush grape vine. Mid-autumn flora—variegated pink balloon flowers on the right and orange asters on the left—give the composition some coloristic counterpoint. The exotic bird’s plumage is meticulously built up in layers of shell white that recall the paintings of Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800).

The artist himself inscribed the title Girl and Parrot (Ōmu to shōjo) on the lid of the paulownia wood box made to store the work, but no other information concerning the identity of the subject is known. We can safely assume, however, that this portrait was commissioned by the girl’s family and is supposed to be a portrait and not a generalized depiction of Japanese childhood. The custom of depicting fashionably dressed young girls and women, usually the daughters of wealthy art patrons, alongside symbols of high social status—such as a grand piano, a chaise longue, an imported automobile, or an exotic pet bird, as here—had been made popular in the late 1920s by the Nihonga painter Nakamura Daizaburō (1898–1947).

Kamiya Kōkei was born in 1904 in Toyama Prefecture and at a young age he moved to Kyoto and trained as a painter under the highly regarded Nihonga masters Kanamori Kan’yō (1884–1932) and Kikuchi Keigetsu (1879–1955), the latter of whom is represented in The Met’s collection by two fine figure paintings (2019.420.41 and 2023.4). Though both of his teachers specialized in figure painting, Kōkei was best known for his paintings of flora and fauna. In this exceptional work, however, his teacher’s figural style is clearly reflected . Kōkei worked in Osaka and Kyoto, and regularly participated in regional and national official exhibitions from 1923 until 1941. Kōkei was also in demand for creating wall paintings for churches and sliding-door paintings (fusuma-e) for temples in the Ōsaka/Kyoto region, and we can assume that his work on such large-format commissions gave him the confidence to take on an oversize portrait like this. Records of his activities as an artist do not survive from the war years, and it is assumed that he died around 1943.

Girl and Parrot (Ōmu to shōjo), Kamiya Kokei (Japanese, 1904–ca. 1943), Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gofun (shell white) on silk, Japan

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