Anonymous Edo Period, 17th century
Lot 273*
Edo Period, 17th century
Sold for £115,250 (US$ 151,872) inc. premium

Lot Details
Anonymous Edo Period, 17th century Anonymous Edo Period, 17th century Anonymous Edo Period, 17th century Anonymous Edo Period, 17th century Anonymous Edo Period, 17th century
Edo Period, 17th century
A six-panel folding screen, painted in ink, colour, gold and silver on gilded paper, decorated with willow trees by a broad, arching bridge, with a waterwheel turning in the water beside stone-filled baskets; with extensive details enhanced in moriage, unsigned. 176.5cm x 368cm (69½in x 145in).


  • 柳橋水車図屏風 無銘 六曲一隻 紙本金地着色 江戸時代(17世紀)

    Originally the left screen of a pair, the image depicted is generally considered to represent the bridge spanning the Uji River. The willow trees placed either side of the bridge allude to the progression of seasons, three willows with small, delicate leaves at the right and centre hint at Spring, whilst the fuller, longer leaves at the left suggest Summer.

    The bold, geometrically-conceived bridge is softened both by the round forms of a large waterwheel that turns in the stream and the three-stone-filled baskets (jakago) that protect the embankments. Further movement is provided by the tiny crests of waves stirred up by the turning wheel whilst the extensive use of small squares of pieces of gold (reminiscent of Japanese lacquer decoration) are pasted onto larger areas of gold foil that form the irregular-formed clouds - applied abundantly to allow light to create subtle changes of reflection. Furthermore, the design of the asymmetrical composition is made in such a way, so that dependent of how much of the screen is opened, each segment would capture the light differently, creating an overall powerful effect of a majestic golden glow to the room.

    The Uji River was known in ancient times for its good fishing, and its surroundings were valued for their outstanding beauty. The rolling hills, clear water, and magnificent bridge were celebrated in the anthologies of court poetry such as the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves; eighth century) and the Kokinshu (Collection of Poems from the Ancient and Modern Times; early tenth century). Such screen paintings clearly belonged to the Yamato-e genre, as they depicted both a seasonal progression and the beauty of a famous scenic location (meisho-e).

    Uji was chosen as the site of several Autumnal episodes in the final chapters of the famous eleventh-century novel The Tale of Genji. In illustrated versions of this romantic tale, pictures for the Uji episodes invariably include the famous, broad bridge, willow trees, baskets and/or the waterwheel. About half a century later, the imagery associated with Uji took on religious connotations and it became home to the Pure Land (Jodo) Buddhist temple Byodoin and its famous Hoodo (Phoenix Hall). The temple and its grounds were a replica of Amida Buddha's Western Paradise, a three-dimensional construction based on the Kanmuryojukyo (Contemplation Sutra). Such literal manifestations of imaginary locations helped the aristocracy to envision Paradise, a place where they clearly hoped to return to after death; hence the reason why Uji was favoured by members of the Imperial Court who used the area as a retreat. Historic documents show a screen painting of Uji bridge in Autumn, which was displayed in the Imperial Palace in the ninth century. Perhaps the bridge was the metaphorical connection between this land and the Pure Land.

    The Uji theme in painting therefore underwent several stages of transfomation before finally evolving into the magnificent decorative composition that is evident in the image presented here. With its contrasts of large dramatic and pictorial forms, brilliant metallic shimmer and shades of gold, this screen represents the height of Momoyama/Edo decorative style. The image has lost all former lofty associations with an actual place and has become, instead, a striking, bold, yet simple design that is just as attractive today as it was then.

    At least eight more versions of this theme are known in American collections, and many others can be found in Japan. Most of these are virtually identical, except for minor variations in detail and quality. Compare with similar screens in The Art Institute of Chicago, The Mary Griggs Burke Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The Honolulu Academy of Arts, The Worcester Museum, Massachusetts, The Idemitsu Museum of Arts, and The Tokyo National Museum.
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  1. Suzannah Yip
    Specialist - Japanese Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
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