This is a small-scale sketch created in order to plan, or possibly to record, a two-panel screen painting entitled 'Jade Bamboo Grove and White Cranes.' The annotations at top right give the dimensions of the finished work. The crane was a popular creature in East Asian painting, used as a symbol of long life, and here, of family harmony.
In Japanese painting, gridlines were used to plot complex compositions. The lines were laid using a carpenter's reel, a wooden wheel fitted with a string. The string was dipped in ink and pulled taut, then 'plucked' onto the paper surface, thereby leaving a straight line. Using this method, the artist could work up a reduced-scale sketch onto a larger painting surface. Here, the red lines have been laid over the drawing as a guide for future use.
The new era of modernization in Japan brought many pressures to bear on established painting practice and Katei was a central member of the Japan Art Association, formed in 1888 with the aim of revitalizing traditional techniques. The finished screen, painted in thick pigments on gold leaf, was exhibited at the Association's exhibition in October 1890. Obviously deemed successful, the work was purchased by the newly founded government art school, where it resides to this day.