The eighteenth century in Japan saw a new influx of realism in painting best exemplified by the innovative work of Maruyama Ōkyo. A major factor in the development of his style was his direct and intensive study of nature, though he was also influenced by Chinese and Western realism. His interest in natural forms did lead to some criticism that in rendering his subjects he was too concerned with physical appearance; nevertheless, his work enjoyed wide popular appeal.
In this striking pair of screens, clumps of young bamboo and a gnarled plum tree beside a stream provide the setting for a group of crows in flight and at rest. Soft washes of gray ink and gold convey the feeling of dense fog and evoke a sense of deep space. Nine birds are boldly rendered in thick, textured brushstrokes in varying tones of gray and black, achieved by laying down the ink with the side of the brush. Every attitude of the crows as they dart up, swoop down, and rest of the ground reveals the artist’s patient study of the actual birds. Painted when Ōkyo was thirty-three years old, the startling realism of the cawing birds and the detailed observation of natural form are characteristic of his work, though these screens demonstrate a free ink style that is rarely found in works of his youth.
Bunzo Nakanishi, Kyoto;
(Mayuyama & Co., Ltd., Tokyo);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1969.