Sparrow on an akebi plant

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    The story of the Daoist figure Kōshohei was a popular painting subject for the Maruyama and Shijō schools in the Edo period. According to legend, a young Kōshohei led his herd of sheep into the mountains and remained there for forty years to meditate. His brother managed to find him, and when he asked about the missing herd, Kōshohei transformed several white rocks into actual living sheep with a touch of his staff. Ōbun has painted a young-looking shepherd whose sleeve is caught up in a divine wind as he points his staff at the rock [EA1973.91]. The ears and eye of a sheep can be made out as it begins its transformation. The second painting [EA1973.90] of a sparrow on a stem of an akebi plant has the same characteristically taut and controlled brushstrokes as that of the shepherd.

    Both paintings have two seals on the right edge done with tan pigment (a mixture of lead, saltpetre and sulphur that was originally red). The word goyō (in service) can be made out in the upper seal on the painting of the bird, however the lower seal is unreadable. The seals therefore indicate that this pair of painted fans were done by imperial order during the same year Ōbun participated in the decoration of the Imperial Palace, which had burned the year before. Though now they are mounted separately, the paintings probably made up two sides of one fan originally.

    Ōbun, the fifth-generation head of the Maruyama school, was born in Edo. He moved to Kyoto to study painting, and apart from his work on the Imperial Palace mentioned above, he was active later in his life as a judge in the world of Meiji period exhibitions of the new style Nihonga paintings.

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 22 on p. 92, p. 83, illus. p. 93

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