East Asia, Japan, Meiji period, ca. 1868 to 1912 CE. A stunning Japanese Meiji period six-panel folding screen expertly painted on rice paper to depict scenes from the Tale of Genji, written by the famous lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu, with characteristic bird's eye views of the interiors and a beautiful landscape beyond. This classic romantic work of Japanese literature, written in the 11th century, paints a wonderful portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan and is widely touted to be the world's first novel. The story tells of the passionate prince Genji's love affairs and political escapades. The painting is set in a black lacquer frame, has a golden silk brocade border, and closes neatly along its accordion folds. Size open: 73" W x 24.75" H (185.4 cm x 62.9 cm) Size closed: 4.2" L x 12.625" W x 24.75" H (10.7 cm x 32.1 cm x 62.9 cm)
The Tale of Genji was first illustrated in scroll form with text narrating select images. Murasaki Skikibu paid much attention to the emotions and pure beauty in her novel. The Japanese term for this is "mono no aware" - meaning an appreciation and longing for the ephemeral moments of joy, beauty, and heartbreak that are part of the human existence. These ideas are conveyed in subtle ways in this screen painting. For example, notice how the lovers' heads are gently bowed toward one another on the left of this composition. In this way, the artist was gently communicating the couples' mutual interest and affection.
Provenance: private Evergreen, Colorado, collection, USA; ex-private Denver, Colorado, USA, collection; acquired 1960 to 2000
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Minor scuffs to pigmentation here and there and a few small punctures as shown, but overall the imagery is very strong. Slight stains to brocade border. Minor losses and stains to paper covering sides of panels (mostly hidden when screen is open). A few scuffs and nicks/chips to the black lacquer frame, but the frame is otherwise very good and closes neatly along accordion folds. Patterned paper on verso is also well preserved save expected toning and a minute stains.