Perched alertly on a snowy branch, the predatory hawk turns its head, no doubt searching for the slight movement that will betray the location of its next meal. Through a very skillful use of the reserve technique, in which the background was washed with ink so as to allow the unpainted white surface of the silk to represent the snow, the artist was able to enliven the quiet surface of his work with the sharp black accents of the bamboo leaves and tree trunk. The dynamic composition is constructed around the stabilizing horizontal and vertical axes of the format but is given an almost palpable sense of potential movement through the strong slant of the cliff cutting through the scene.
The artist of the painting, Nakabayashi Chikuto, is famed as a landscapist, but as this work demonstrates, he was also a very superior painter in the flower-and-bird category. Although not dated by inscription, the painting likely dates between 1824 and 1839, the period of Chikuto’s full maturity when he used asymmetrical compositions and sharp expressive brushwork to realize his visions.