Autumn Scene

About this object

Over the course of Katei's career, spanning more than fifty years, Japan went through significant social changes. Greatest among these was the Restoration of 1868, which ushered in a new parliamentary system of government and a thoroughgoing process of modernization, with steam locomotives, brick buildings and Western dress, among many other changes. One aspect was an institutionalized art system, which included a government-sponsored art school, a museum and public exhibitions. From the 1880s onwards, when submitting to this new form of exhibition, both at home and abroad, painters were encouraged to expand the range of their work and to adopt novel approaches. One of these was images using a horizontal composition. Although these are found in Japanese painting prior to this, they were used only for specific, smaller formats. In keeping with the new context of the exhibition hall, these paintings were framed and glazed, rather than being mounted in the traditional hanging scroll format. By such means, painters were striving to create something that could stand on an equal footing with 'painting' as a fine art in Europe. Otherwise, the elements of this autumnal scene are taken from the established protocols of Japanese art. The crossed trunks of the maple trees and the curving stream flowing towards us both impart to the image a sense of depth. The owl at the centre, surrounded by a phalanx of smaller birds calling to it, can be taken as symbolizing the wise ruler being addressed by his officials and subjects.
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