Rare Chinese Influenced Japanese Screens, A Few Thoughts
Chinese-influenced Japanese screens fall into a subset of paintings starting in the Muromachi period (1392–1573). Unless you're aware of their existence, encountering one can be visually confusing. The paintings and screens have a distinctive Japanese style and feeling to them, however, the subject matter is clearly Chinese.
The background landscapes and structures in these paintings often have elements common to Japanese works. Upon closer examination, the hair styles, facial expressions, and other details reveal the Chinese influences. This style of painting persisted and continued right up to the Meiji period. Over time since the Muromachi period, the strong Chinese feeling slowly evolved to reflect more of a Japanese sensibility.
A few museums in the United States house several of these paintings and folding screens. They include the Dallas Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Much better known are the slightly later Namban works, depicting Portuguese traders and ships that came into existence around 1543. They are seen more frequently but are none-the-less still considered rare.
Chinese-influenced Japanese Screens Can Even Turn Up At Rural Auctions
Around 15 years ago while attending a small auction the opportunity presented itself for us to buy one of them. That day the auctioneer couldn't decide whether it was Chinese, Japanese or Korean. As a result of the confusion over the screen's country of authorship, we bought it for a nominal sum.
The screen had been bought by the great grandfather of the consignor in Japan during the early 1900's, circa 1910.
The six-fold screen we bought that day dates to the 18th C.. It had some old repairs and minor areas of damage about the hinges, but was overall a good screen. Due to their inherent fragility, large 18th C. paper folding screens always need work, or nearly always.
An 18th C. Court Veranda Scene
The screen depicts an important male personage flanked by 10 well dressed standing ladies with tall Tang style hair buns. Each wearing voluminous robes more typical of Chinese attire of the period than the more closely fitting Japanese styles. The foreground illustrates a procession of men and women waiting to pay homage at the base of the steps to the veranda. To the right are attendants taking care of the horses belonging to the arrivals.
In classic Japanese style, the perspective of the scene is an ariel view peering through gilt bands of puffy clouds. Rocky outcroppings, a pine tree, and mountains frame the entire scene.
The painting is all clearly Japanese, however, the scene details are reminiscent of a Chinese court scene. Additional court ladies await on the upper terrace.
Chinese-influenced Japanese Screens can be found made well into the early 20th C. .
The man in white at the head of the group on the right screen is Emperor Wen of ancient China's Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050–256 B.C.). He is accompanied by a retinue of ten attendants. His carriage stands at the extreme right while the group progresses toward the lone fisherman Lü Shang, represented on the left screen. Before setting out on a hunting trip, the emperor had a revelation that he would meet a "wise man," who turned out to be the impoverished Lü Shang, known in Japan as Taikō bō. The fisherman agreed to be the emperor's counselor and helped to establish the exalted Zhou dynasty.