Wonderful two-panel folding screen with painting of a phoenix descending between gold clouds to a river shore where a paulownia tree grows, which is believed to be his resting place. The composition is focusing on three basic elements, the bird, a tree and a rock, which are connected through the blue waters of a stream that is flowing from the right to the left. The gold clouds are framing the scene and give it spatial depth at the same time. This effect is highlighted by the different shades of ink in the background of the phoenix that is echoing the shapes of the clouds and deepens the effect of infinity.
The phoenix (Jap. hō-ō) is an auspicious symbol in Japanese culture. From about 2,000 years ago, the Chinese phoenix came to represent power which was sent to the Empress from the heavens. It was believed he would descend from the heavens to do good deeds and return to its celestial abode to await a new era. Visions of the phoenix god were considered omens of great luck and peace. One famous example is the pair of phoenixes on the roof of the Phoenix Hall (Hōō-dō) at the Byōdō-in temple in the city of Uji (the temple is depicted on the 10 Yen coin and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994).
The screen was painted by a master Kanō painter, however, remained unsigned - which is not unusual. The unknown painter's skillful brushwork as well as the overall composition is orientating on a famous pair of six-panel screens made by Kanō Tan'yū (1602-1674) in the Suntory Museum of Art, Tōkyō. Compared to Tan'yū's work, the screens seem to combine the flying phoenix from his left screen with the rock and the tree from the right screen to adapt the composition and arrange it in the much smaller proportions of a two-panel folding screens.