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Folding Screens

Screen Painting

Byôbu, or "folding screens," presented unique challenges to Japanese painters. The sheer size of these works required the artists to conceive their compositions on a grand scale. Since byôbu were usually arranged in pairs, artists often linked the composition across the space separating the two screens. They also had to take into account the folds in the screen. With careful planning, they were able to exploit the sense of three-dimensional space by strategically positioning motifs around the folds. The scale of byôbu painting sometimes necessitated the use of large brushes, particularly for landscape motifs, such as rocks and trees.

Folding screens had a practical as well as decorative function. Since they were sometimes used to subdivide rooms into smaller spaces, the subjects they depicted could be used to set the appropriate mood for the rooms in which they were displayed. A government official entertaining important guests, for example, would ensure that the byôbu he chose to display on that occasion would enhance his status and the seriousness of the meeting. In general, the size of folding screens meant that wealthy patrons were most able to commission such works. By the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868), artists of all schools regularly produced byôbu paintings. The range of subject matter byôbu painters explored was as extensive as the range of styles they employed.

 

 

 

Kanô Tsunenobu, 1636 - 1713
The Seven Sages in a Bamboo Grove
 
Black ink on paper, Pair of six-panel screens
 

 

 Kanô Sansetsu, 1589 - 1651
The Reunion of Su Wi and Ling
Ink on paper
, Six-Panel Screen
 

 

 Shuho
Tiger and Bamboo
, 1861 - 63
Ink on paper
, Six-Panel Screen
 

 

 

 Soga Shôkô, about mid-17th century
Pine, Bamboo and Plum
Ink and gold wash on paper
, Pair of eight-panel screens

 

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Last Updated: April 20, 2000