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Bird on Camellia Branch

Inscriptions by Zuikei Shūhō1473

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

The lack of both a signature and a seal make it impossible to identify the artist, but from the inscription at the top of the painting, which includes the name Zuikei Shūhō (1391–1473), a well-known monk and Gozan (Five Mountains) Zen writer, and his age of eighty-three, it is assumed he painted this work in 1473 (Bunmei 5). Given that this work was produced the year he died, it is a fitting tribute to his last writing.
The composition is of a camellia dusted with snow and a bird perched on its branch. Zuikei captured the essence of winter with the snow-covered camellia, yet also alluded to the approaching spring with the movement of the small bird. The sense of translucence in the coloring conveys and fosters the fresh image of the new spring. The tradition of painting camellia goes back at least to the Northern Song-dynasty China, where it is known this genre was produced early on. In Japan, there are documents attesting to these works having been produced during the Nanbokuchō period, and it has been assumed that this piece was based on bird-and-flower paintings in the style of Chinese Imperial Painting Academy that were imported to Japan. This is among of the oldest examples of color paintings of birds and flowers.

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