Hishida Shunsō played such an important role in the genre of modern Japanese-style painting known as nihonga that it is impossible to talk about nihonga without mentioning him. This particular work dates from when he was twenty-seven years old. Shunsō was profoundly influenced by Okakura Tenshin (1862/63-1913), and along with Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958), another giant of nihonga painting, he abandoned the use of outlines, which had played such an important role in earlier nihonga. In doing so, they experimented with a new approach to representing space and light – two things that nihonga had not handled especially well in the past. In the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, the first thing that instructors had students do was practice drawing lines – vertical lines, horizontal lines, and diagonal lines – hundreds of times, over and over again. This gives some indication of how important outlines were at the time and how much courage it took for Taikan and Shunsō to abandon them. The result of these experiments was a style that its critics derided as the “Vague Style” (mōrōtai). This work is not done entirely in this style, but one can see traces of it in the treatment of the pigeons and thistles.
Shunsō did not compromise with public opinion and instead remained faithful to his own artistic vision. It was not until he produced his masterpiece Falling Leaves that his people began to give his artwork favourable reviews. He taught as a fellow at the Japan Art Institute, but unfortunately, the year after he painted his famous Black Cat, he died at the premature age of thirty-seven. He would never live to see the Japan Art Institute become the dominant force in the world of nihonga painting.