Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Unfolding Nature: Images of Summer on Chinese and Japanese Fans

(from 10th Jul until 7th Oct 2012)

Enjoy the summery scenes on fan paintings from the Chinese and Japanese reserve collection.

Detail of Praying mantis, bee, and prunus blossom, by Chen Fen, China, 1881 (Museum No: EA1966.200)
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  • Nanga

    Lit. ‘Southern painting’ – Edo period (1600-1868) Japanese painting school derived from Chinese models.


    • currently in research collection

Objects are sometimes moved to a different location. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis. Contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular object on display, or would like to arrange an appointment to see an object in our reserve collections.


Publications online

  • Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum by Janice Katz

    Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum

    The Ashmolean’s two Bunchō fans could not be more different in terms of style. The previous one [EAX.5431] is the artist’s transformation of Chinese landscape models, while this fan of butterflies takes its cue from sketches of insects. Though based on nature, the butterflies are not painted as scientific specimens. Each seems to have its own personality in the way its wings or antennae bend. Bunchō has painted a host of characters, from the most delicate and small light pink butterfly to the most intimidating green-striped one. There is a bit of the artist’s own fantasy added here, evident in the architectonic markings on the butterflies wings, some in colours that do not occur in nature. Less natural still is the shining gold and silver background against which the insects with their matted colours stand out. Great care has been taken in the butterflies’ markings and colourings by painting several layers of pigment to get just the right effect. The lines of the feet and bodies are done with delicate calligraphic grace, the same touch as the artist's signature.

    Many artists of the period, beginning with Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795) [These are in the Tokyo National Museum and published in Yamakaw Takeshi, Nanga to shaseiga, Genshoku nihon no bijutsu Vol. 18 (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1969), fig. 114.] produced studies of butterflies, such as Masuyama Sessai (1754-1819) [Also in the Tokyo National Museum and published in Honsono Masanobu, Kindai kaiga no reimei: Bunchō Kazan to Yōfūga, Nihon bijutsu zenhū Vol. 25 (Tokyo: Gakushū kenkyūsha, 1979), plates 103-4 and Yoshiaki Shimizu, ed., Japan: the Shaping of Daimyo Culture 185-1868 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989), fig. 138 and page 219.] and Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) [This is in the collection of Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, published in Itabashi Art Museum, Shibata Zeshin ten: bakumatsu meiji no seika kaiga to shikkō no sedai (Tokyo: Itabashi Art Museum, 1980), fig. 39.]. The general atmosphere of objective, scientific study of the natural world that grew out of Neo-Confucian philosophy was spearheaded by those daimyo with access to Western and Chinese books on botany and herbal medicine. Bunchō himself produced sketches of fish, cats and birds [Banchō’s sketchbook Gagaku saikaganzukō is published in Hosono, 220.], and the printed book Shazanrō gahon has illustrations of insects [A copy of this book is in the British Museum.]. Bunchō began to experiment with Maruyama and Shijō school techniques when fellow-artist Watanabe Nangaku (1767-1813) came to Edo for three years in about 1808, and possibly entered Bunchō’s studio [Hosono. 144.]. Bunchō’s signature on Butterflies most closely resembles those on works done between 1808 and 1812.

    Our image of Bunchō is probably very different from how he was viewed by his contemporaries since we must rely on his extant works. Butterflies gives us insight into a type of painting Bunchō was known to have done, but with few remaining examples.

Objects from past exhibitions may have now returned to our stores or a lender. Click into an individual object record to confirm whether or not an object is currently on display. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis, so please contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular Eastern Art object.

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