Old Plum

Title: Old Plum
Artist: Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, 1590–1651)
Date: 1646
Medium: Four sliding-door panels (fusuma); ink, color, gold, and gold leaf on paper
Dimensions: Overall (of all four panels): 68 3/4 x 191 1/8 in. (174.6 x 485.5 cm)
Culture: Japanese; Edo period (1615-1868)
Repository: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975
Accession Number: 1975.268.48a–d
Description: This screen painting depicts a large plum tree flanked by rocks set against a gold leaf background. The old plum tree has an imposing presence in the painting; its blooming branches reach out onto all four of the panels. Similar to the inclusion of the Cyprus tree in other Japanese paintings from the Edo period, the old plum represents the strength, power, and longevity of the screen’s patron, who is a member of elite society. The branches of the plum tree grow right to the left, creating a sense of visual progression, as illustrations were read from right to left in Japan during this time. The visual progression and development of the plum tree presumably mirror the progression of strength and continuation of power in the patron’s family history. This screen also alludes to the future promise of prosperity with an image of flowers in the left corner of the painting. In addition to the symbol of the plum tree, the colors used in this screen painting allude to the power of the screen’s patron. Gold leaf is used to decorate the background, which gives the screen a sense of luxury and importance. Gold is a luxurious metal, but it is also a strong one that does not tarnish over time. Similar to the image of the plum tree, the color gold emphasizes the longevity of the patron’s strength. These features illustrate the way screen paintings were used as a way to communicate social status and power in Japan during the Edo period.


Author: Lucy Buchanan

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