right screen Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Lotuses rise annually from the muddy depths of ponds to bloom with sublime beauty before setting seed, decaying, and disappearing once more. The unearthly flower has long been understood as a symbol of Buddhist enlightenment and rebirth. This large-scale iteration of a lotus pond is painted on two movable screens—ideal for display in Japan’s earliest public exhibitions, initiated in the late 19th century to support the formulation of a representatively "Japanese" aesthetic on the world stage. Shūseki paints the sacred subject matter in a contemporary neoclassical idiom, using the established technique of puddling ink and gold to realize the plant in naturalistic and expressionistic modes simultaneously. The addition of a kingfisher in the right screen and a dragonfly in the left, both captured in the instant before taking wing, poignantly infuses temporal specificity into the otherwise timeless subject.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Okutani Shūseki 奥谷秋石, Japanese (1871 - 1936)
Lotus Pond
Work Type
painting, screen
late 19th - early 20th century
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Meiji era, 1868-1912
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Pair of two-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on silk
image only, each panel: 170.5 x 93.3 cm (67 1/8 x 36 3/4 in.)
with mount, each panel: 175.5 x 95 cm (69 1/8 x 37 3/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • signature: 秋石道人筆 [Shūseki dōjin hitsu]
  • seal: round, relief: 洗耳窟 [Senji kutsu]
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Rachel Saunders and Yukio Lippit, Painting Edo: Selections from the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, 2020), pp. 98-99, fig. 85

Exhibition History

Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/14/2020 - 06/06/2021

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu