Exhibitions/ Art Object

Silkies (Ukokkei)

Mori Sosen (Japanese, 1747–1821)
Edo period (1615–1868)
before 1808
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Image: 33 3/4 x 51 in. (85.7 x 129.5 cm) Overall with mounting: 72 5/8 x 60 1/16 in. (184.5 x 152.5 cm) Overall with knobs: 63 9/16 in. (161.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Lent by Fishbein-Bender Collection
Not on view
This tour de force of avian painting adroitly captures the subtle coloration and soft plumage of a cluster of seven silkies, a breed of chicken known for its fluffy, furlike feathers. Silkies are found in various colors including white and black—as here—but also sometimes feature gray, buff, red, and mottled coloration. Also striking is the dark blue flesh of their wattles and earlobes, and the presence of five toes, rather than four, as most chickens have. In Japanese they are called ukokkei (Chinese: wuguji), which literally means “chickens with raven-black bones.” They cannot fly, and compared to most barnyard fowl, they have calm dispositions and make good pets. They were raised to be eaten, however, and in China soup made from silkies is believed to have curative properties. Thought to have originated in China, silkies are now popular in the West as exhibition birds and pets. Marco Polo during his travels in Asia in the thirteenth century wrote of encountering such peculiar furry chickens: “There is the strangest thing there that I must tell you about. They have a kind of fowl that has no feathers, but hair only, like a cat’s fur.”

This large-format hanging scroll is an unusual deviation from Sosen’s more conventional, naturalistic treatment of monkeys (his forte) or deer, though he also created a number of paintings of peafowl.
Signature: Signed lower right corner: Sosen
Two seals in lower right corner, to the left and below the signature.
First, square intaglio: xx
Second, round: So sen ?
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Birds in the Art of Japan," February 2, 2013–July 28, 2013.