Monkey Reaching for The Moon

Title: Monkey Reaching for the Moon
Artist: Shoson
Date: c. 1910
Size: 34 x 18 cm
Material: Ink on paper, color woodcut
Repository: [Black] Print Collection, Art History Dept, Cummings Arts Center, Connecticut College, New London
Accession Number: black061

Description: This woodblock print depicts a monkey hanging from a tree branch over the surface of water, reaching down to touch the reflection of the moon. This imagery is undoubtedly derived from a popular Buddhist story that warns how the spiritually unenlightened cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. The background of the image simply depicts the sky and water with a concentrated black pigment at the top that fades into a light blue at the bottom. The moon’s reflection stands out as a basic white sphere set against the blue water. The background’s simplistic composition reflects traditional Japanese art, which utilizes flat color and lack of perspective. In contrast, the monkey is given more visual depth through the darker color and intricate detail, which highlight the figure. The monkey precariously hangs from the branch above by just its fingertips, illustrating its treacherous attempt to reach the moon, creating visual intensity. The tree branch’s hanging vines mimic the monkey’s hanging composition, drawing the viewer’s attention towards the reflection at the bottom of the image. Utilizing traditional Japanese color techniques and energetic composition, Shoson emphasizes the Buddhist parable’s warning to the unenlightened. By including the motif of reflection, Shoson differentiates this print from other images of animals in nature, like his 1927 print: Cockatoo & Pomegranate, which celebrates the beauty of nature and seeks to delight viewers.


Princeton University Art Museum:,distinguish%20between%20reality%20and%20illusion.

Connecticut College Asian Art Collection:

Black Collection inventory sheets:

Author: Lucy Buchanan

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