The turbidity of the water reflecting the image of the celestial maiden and the hydrangeas suggest the transience of beauty. This work dates from a period when Shunso, who diligently copied antique paintings, attached great importance to the use of line in Japanese style painting.
This work was exhibited at the third Kaiga Kyoshinkai (Competitive Painting Exhibition) of the Nihon Kaiga Kyokai (Japanese Painting Association), whose chief juror was Okakura Tenshin. According to the artist, the image he had in mind was “a sorrowful celestial maiden,” based on the idea that “a beautiful woman is not beautiful forever, and there will come a time when beauty wil fade.” He is said to have depicted the image reflected in the water as “withered and tarnished” compared to the beautiful maiden in the upper part of the picture. Hydrangeas, too, have been included as an allegory, for they change through seven colors and eventually wither and die. Shunso, who had been teaching at the Tokyo Fine Arts School, his alma mater, since 1896, is said to have painted this work on campus, standing the large picture in the spacious classroom and stretching his petite body up over it to finish it in one breath. Telling the story behind the production of Reflection in the water in Gakai shinsai, Shunso criticized art critics for falling to understand the role of line in Japanese style painting. With Okakura Tenshin’s dismissal from the School in 1898, Shunso also resigned and participated in the establishment of the Nihon Bijutsuin (Japan Art Institute). Thereafter, he conducted a series of formal artistic experiments, including the use of the so-called morotai, which abandoned line drawing, and with others such as Yokoyama Taikan began to explore a new direction for Japanese style painting. (Writer : Rie Yokoyama Source : Selected Masterpieces from The University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music: Grand Opening Exhibition, The University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, 1999)