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Rabbit and Moon

Rabbit and Moon

 Rabbit and Moon, by Watanabe Shotei (Japanese, 18511918).  Hanging scroll; Ink and colors on silk. Gift of Jeanne G. O'Brien in memory of James E. O'Brien, 1993.44.

Instead of the “man in the moon,”  East Asian cultures speak of the “rabbit in the moon.”  Chinese legend has the rabbit mixing an elixir, while in Korea and Japan the rabbit is said to be pounding rice cakes (mochi). These motifs are both associated with autumn, the season in which the beauty of the moon is most appreciated.

Here, the Japanese artist Watanabe Seitei depicts a rabbit in front of a full white moon shining in a cloudy night sky. The sparse stalks of grass also hint that cooler weather has arrived. Seitei worked in the Meiji period (1868–1912), when Japan opened its doors for the first time in several centuries to the West. Trained as a painter, he was involved in the design of works to be sent to the Paris Exposition of 1878 and was one of the first Japanese artists to travel to Europe and America, where he was influenced by Western-style watercolor and other Western painting methods.

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