Two-Panel Screen with Phoenix and Paulownia Tree

Kanō School, Edo Period, 18th Century

Inv. Nr. #17.001
Date MId Edo-period (1603-1868), 18th Century
Material Mineral Colors, ink and gold on paper.
Dimensions H 180 x W 190 cm

Two unidentified (collector?) seals on the lower right corner.


Price on request

Beautiful two-panel folding screen depicting a phoenix descending through golden clouds to a riverbank where a paulownia tree grows, presumably its resting place. The composition focuses on three basic elements – the bird, a tree, and a rock – connected by the blue waters of a stream flowing from right to left. The golden clouds frame the scene and give it depth. This effect is enhanced by the different shades of ink in the background of the phoenix, which echo the shapes of the clouds and deepen the effect of infinity.

The phoenix (Jap. hōō) is an auspicious symbol in Japanese culture. Beginning about 2,000 years ago, the Chinese phoenix came to represent the power sent from heaven to the empress. It was believed that it would descend from the heavens to do good deeds and return to its heavenly abode to await a new era. Visions of the Phoenix God were considered omens of great happiness and peace. A 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 Kanō master, but is unsigned, which is not unusual. The skillful brushwork of the painters from the Kanō workshop, as well as the overall composition, is based on a famous pair of six-panel screens 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 tree from the right screen, adapting the composition and arranging it in the much smaller proportions of a two-panel folding screen.