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Tanomura Chokunyu (1814-1907)

“A Murder of Crows on Desiccated Trees” 1882

Hanging scroll, ink on paper
151.8 cm x 59.1 cm. (59 3/4 x 23 1/4 in.)

“Before the snow the moon shines
on the mountains like a gem,
After the wind blows in the trees
only half the leaves remain.
During the ninth month of the 15th year of the Meiji era [1882],
painted at Hoka-do in (Han)juku by the Mountain Recluse Chokunyu, called Denchi.”

Artist’s seals:
Chokunyu sanjin; Denchi no yin; Kozetsu shi; San nichi

(NOTE: Further information, including box inscription, is provided below the detailed images.)



Box inscriptions:

“My deceased teacher Chokunyu sansho painted ‘Swarm of Crows on Cold Branches.’”


後学 竹邨桑者田逸 「物外人」「竹邨」
(Right) “In early autumn of the 6th year of the Taisho era, the year 1917, I saw and inscribed this, His later follower, Chikuson soja Den Itsu.” (i.e.Tajika Chikuson, 1864-1922). His junior (disciple) Chikuson sōja Den Itsu. Seals: Butsugai jin; Den Itsu

(Left) ” My deceased teacher Old Man Chokunyu painted and inscribed ‘Murder of Crows on Desiccated Trees.’”


大正六年歳在丁巳秋晩謹簽於平安柳池畫舫 後学栢陰主人啓
丁巳十月観了於洛北對花聴鶯楼上 春篁道人「?」「春篁」
(3rd item in image – inscribed on the underside of inner lid) “During late autumn of the 6th year of the Taisho era, the year 1917, I respectfully inscribed in the studio in Kyoto’s Ryuchi district (i.e., central Kyoto). His later follower Hakuin Shujin, Kei.” (i.e., Tanaka Hakuin, 1866-1934).
“In the year 1917, I saw this at Taika Choolo in Northern Kyoto, Shunko Dojin.” (i.e., Kanemoto Shunko 1855-?)


Letter of Appreciation:
From the director of the Shiga Prefecture Sangyo Bunka Kaikan (later renamed The Museum of Shiga Prefecture Biwako Bunkakan), for loaning the painting to an exhibition in 1954.


Box side:
枯木乱烏 “Swarm of Crows on Withered Tree”
直入 “Chokunnyu”
藤井蔵 “Fujii’s collection”



A Confucian scholar, bent in response to his age or the wind, walks on a path beneath ancient trees and bamboo. His passage appears to have disturbed a myriad of crows, their flight into the far distance recorded in the upper portion of the picture. Suggestions of mist in the background suggest some degree of pictorial depth while also activating the surface of the painting and providing an ideal ground on which to display the flight of the birds. The brushwork is more descriptive than expressionistic, identifying the artist as highly competent and conservative follower of the literati tradition.

Chokunyu (1814-1907) was born in Takeda Village in Bungo province, the third son of Sannomiya Denuemon, a samurai of the Oka clan. His uncle, Watanabe Hoto (1752?-1833), also served the Oka clan, and, since Hoto was teacher of Tanomura Chikuden (1777-1835), whose father also served the Oka family, it was natural that the young Chokunyu studied with Chikuden, and, at the age of eight, the child prodigy was adopted by his teacher. After the death of his teacher, Chokunyu studied with great intensity the Chinese paintings then in Japan, so his works varied greatly in style depending on the source he was following.

Chokunyu was also a poet in Chinese style, a student of Chinese Neo-Confucianism and Zen practices, the Japanese tea ceremony, incense burning, and the use of swords and spears–a truly well-rounded literatus. Chokunyu also helped establish the Kyoto Municipal School of Fine Arts and Crafts and was its first director. In 1896 Chokunyu established the Nihon Nanga Kyokai in cooperation with Tomioka Tessai and Taniguchi Aizen. A major leader of the Nanga movement during the Meiji era, Chokunyu was frequently a juror for exhibitions and had numerous pupils–all in all a most worthy follower of his master, Chikuden. Some critics, forgetting the great achievements of Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924), have termed Chokunyu the last of the great literati masters of Japan.

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