Bush Peonies

About this object

In East Asian art, elements of nature were used as a language of symbolism. In this image, butterflies hover around a peony bush which, due to the density and abundance of its petals, represents a wish for wealth and prosperity. The composition is anchored at the bottom by a rock rendered in monochrome ink, and this contrasts with the colours of the orchids in front and of the blossoms and leaves above. Katei distributes the stalks of the peony plant both before and behind the rock, giving the composition a sense of depth. The leaves, painted without the use of outlines, are carefully modulated to suggest their varying tones.

This is the preparatory drawing for a painting on silk, to be mounted as a hanging scroll for temporary display in a reception room. As hanging scrolls are usually vertical, the picture field lends itself to the close-up presentation of a single plant in isolation. The subject matter of a peony in bloom would make it suitable for showing in summer. The two-line inscription indicates that this was a fully finished preparatory drawing. It records that Katei painted the composition originally in early March 1883, but the annotation at bottom left tells us this is a copy he made five years later, most likely for the use of his students as copying practice.
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