Mochizuki Gyokkei 望月玉渓 (1874-1938)

Pair of Painted Screens with Pines

Inv. Nr. #20.011
Date 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.

Price on request

A pair of two-panel folding screens by Mochizuki Gyokkei (1874-1938) depicting pine trees. The composition is divided between the two screens. On the left, young pine trees grow on a highly reduced piece of land that shifts slightly to the right, while on the other screen, two large, old pine trees grow into the infinite sky. Here, the strong vertical appearance of the trunks is interrupted only by a vital branch of the trees, thickly covered with dark needles. Together, the two screens create a magnificent, almost four-meter-wide composition of these highly symbolic plants against a luminous gold background.


Pine trees are among the most popular symbols of longevity and dignity in East Asian cultures. Their strong, gnarled trunk represents a long, vital life that can withstand even the harshest conditions of its environment. The rough trunks and branches, thickly covered with needles and pine cones, visualize a common Japanese proverb: "The pine tree is green for a thousand years" (Shōju sennen no midori).

In his composition on two separate screens, Japanese artist Mochizuki Gyokkei combines old pines with very young ones. These two opposing qualities of the trees can be understood as iconographic symbols of "continuity" and "renewal" – expressing the most important sentiments of Japanese society during the turbulent transformation of the Meiji era. However, by linking these two seemingly antagonistic aspects through the formal qualities of his arrangement, though, Mochizuki leaves room for further interpretation: The young pines on the left screen grow slightly to the right, while the monumental trunks of the old pine trees seem to bend to the left. In his composition on two physically separate but related paintings, Mochizuki treats the pines, old and young, as two aspects of the same thing. As if the artist wanted to express his deep understanding that continuity is not possible without renewal, and renewal is not possible without continuity.


Mochizuki Gyokkei has succeeded his father Mochizuki Gyokusen  (1834-1913), an official painter of the imperial palace. From him, Gyokkei inherited his precise brushwork through his training in the fifth-generation family style, which goes back to his great-grandfather Mochizuki Gyokusen (1692–1755), who founded the family studio that combined elements of Chinese painting of the Kishi school with influences from Shen Nanping and Japanese painting of the Maruyama-Shijō school as well as Western painting techniques.


See other works by Gyokkei here.