|Date||Late Meiji period, ca. 1905-1910|
|Material||Ink and gold leaf on paper|
|Dimensions||each H 175 x W 188 cm|
Each screen is signed and sealed.
A pair of two-panel folding screens by Mochizuki Gyokkei 望月玉渓 (1874-1938) depicting pine trees. The composition is split between both screens. The left one is showing young pines growing on a highly reduced piece of land that slightly shifts towards the right side of the other screen, whereas two large, old pines are growing towards the infinite sky. The strong vertical appearance of the trunks is only interrupted by a vital branch of the trees, thickly grown with dark needles. Together, the two screens disclose a gorgeous almost four-meter-wide composition of these highly symbolic plants on a luminous golden background.
Pine trees are among the most popular symbols for longevity and dignity in East Asian cultures. Their strong, gnarly trunk stands for a long, vital life that resists even the worst circumstances of its surrounding. The rough trunks and the branches, thickly covered with needles and pine cones, are visualizing a common Japanese saying: "A thousand years is the pine tree green" (Shōju sennen no midori).
However, in his composition on two separated screens, the Japanese artist Mochizuki Gyokkei combines old pines with very young ones. These two opposing qualities of the trees can be understood as iconographical symbols for "continuity" and "renewal" – expressing the most important sentiments of the Japanese society throughout the turbulent transformation of the Meiji era. By linking these two apparently antagonistic aspects through the formal qualities of his arrangement, though, Mochizuki gives room for further interpretations: The young pines on the left screen are slightly growing to the right, while the monumental trunks of the old pines are obviously bending to the left. In his composition on two physically separated but interrelated screens, Mochizuki is treating the pines, old and young, as two aspects of the same thing, as if the artist want to express his deep understanding that continuity is not possible without renewal and renewal not without continuity.
Mochizuki Gyokkei has succeeded his father Mochizuki Gyokusen 望月玉泉 (1834-1913), an official painter for the imperial palace. From him, Gyokkei inherited his accurate brushwork through his training in the fifth-generation family style tracing back to his great-grandfather Mochizuki Gyokusen (1692–1755), who established the family studio combining elements of Chinese painting of the Kishi school with influences by Shen Nanping and Japanese paintings by the Maruyama-Shijō school as well as western painting techniques.