The painting shows two monkeys balancing on a branch of a pine tree. While the mother stares into the distance in a watchful mode, the infant, attentive to his mother, hangs playfully from a branch. Over the branches, the silhouette of the rising sun, alluding to the New Year, can be observed.

Monkey and Infant hanging scroll fact file

Date

ca.1790

Made in

Japan

Made by

Mori Sosen (1747-1821)

Made from

Ink and colour on silk

Dimensions

Image H. 104.5 cm, W. 35 cm

Acquired

Purchased from dealer 

Museum reference

V. 2016.141

Inscriptions/marks

Signed and sealed by artist

Did you know?

Sosen was renowned for his paintings of monkeys. He even changed his name to include the character for ‘monkey’!

Above: Hanging scroll

 Above: Detail of the rising sun.

About the scroll

The interaction between the two animals is subtle yet emotive and imparts tenderness to the whole scene. The artist, Mori Sosen was renowned for his sensitive portrayal of simians. It is believed that he observed monkeys in their natural habitat, hence his ability to subtlety capture the animals' characteristic attitudes and movements. The elements of the scene are set against a pale ink wash background.

 

Above: Detail of the two monkey in the tree. 

  The realistic and accurate depiction of the animals’ soft fur shows Sosen outstanding technical skill. His meticulous and fine brushwork gives a high degree of accuracy and detail to the primates’ physical appearance, permitting their identification as Japanese macaques.

Above: detail of infant

 Above: Detail of mother.

 

The painting is mounted, in typical East Asian method, as a hanging scroll, with a beautifully ornate border of brown and gold brocade bearing a pattern of pomegranate fruits among foliage.

 

Who was Mori Sosen?

Mori Sosen (1747-1821), worked and lived in Kyoto, Japan. There, his work was largely influenced by the trend for naturalistic painting in the late 18th century, led by the painter Maruyama Okyo (1733-95). Although he also painted landscape, Sosen gained became famous for his depictions of simians.

Seasonal Imagery 

In Japanese visual culture, seasonal references are used to show the appreciation for the natural world and its cycles. It is also a way to express awareness of the inevitability of change. 

 Seasonal themes can be observed in Sosen’s paintings of monkeys. He used to depict the animals in different environments for evoking changing times of the year. 

 Hanging scrolls were changed regularly according to the season or for special occasions.

Japanese naturalistic painting

The National Museum has several other paintings of so-called Maruyama Okyo school, however they are primarily within the genres of landscape; this stands as the first animal representation.

 

 

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