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Kumashiro Yūhi (1693 or 1713-1771)1

“Birds and Flowers by Stream” 溪鳥花图

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
99.8 x 48.8 cm. (39 x 19 1/4 in.)

“Painted by Yūhi, called Shūkō 繍江.”

Artist’s seal:
one, illegible

Within the well-balanced composition gorgeous flowers vie for attention with equally attractive birds. An elegant willow stretches gracefully across the top of the picture, helping to frame the foreground riverbank where a fantastic rock rises, its rough contours and internal hollows emphasizing the lovely peonies growing immediately behind; camellia blossoms provide a similar contrast above with the delicate blossoms set off by contrast with the rough bark of the tree. Mynahs and shrikes animate the upper portion while mandarin ducks float gracefully on the river below. The auspicious connotations of the numerous components of the picture would make it an appropriate gift for any number of occasions and any season, the artist combining a winter/spring blossoming camellia with the peony and willow of spring/summer.

Yūhi was born in Nagasaki, the son of an official interpreter of Chinese. He was thus perfectly placed to take advantage of the presence in Nagasaki of a major Chinese talent, Shen Quan (1682-ca. 1760). Whether the invitation to travel to Japan noted in historical records originated with the Japanese emperor himself or even with the shogun, Shen was likely acting in response to an offer made through Japanese bureaucratic and at least semi-official channels. His activity in Japan was to have profound impact on the development of painters who entered his orbit, such as Yūhi, recognized today as the best and most important of Shen Quan’s Japanese followers, with the present painting following closely and most successfully the lead of the Chinese master. Yūhi’s mature work ranges in style from paintings, like the present, which are very close to Chinese models, to those with a decidedly Japanese cast emphasizing a more abstract and decorative approach to painting.

1. According to Laurance Roberts, A Dictionary of Japanese Artists, Tokyo, 1976, p. 205, Yūhi’s date of birth is sometimes given as 1693, in which case he may have studied under the Nagasaki master Watanabe Shuseki (1639-1707), as is sometimes stated.

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