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White phoenix on a pine tree

White phoenix on a pine tree

White phoenix on a pine tree (approx. 1920-1940), by Kamisaka Sekka (1866–1942). Japan. Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk. The Avery Brundage Collection, 1995.50


Who was the artist?
Kamisaka Sekka was born in Kyoto in 1866, at the very end of the Edo period. He was one of the last masters of the Rinpa (Rimpa) school that grew out of Kyoto in the early 1600s. Sekka was a successful artist working in a broad range of media—painting, ceramics, lacquer, textiles, woodwork and metalwork. He received commissions from both imperial and wealthy merchant families, and participated in many domestic and international exhibitions

What is this painting about?
This painting is a bold rendition of a phoenix perched on a branch. The phoenix is a mythological bird that is an auspicious symbol of peace and prosperity. The brushwork is swift and sure, and the coloring rich and beautiful. In the branch area, different colors of paint were allowed to bleed together creating a puddled ink effect, known as tarashikomi. Sekka has distilled his subject to only the most essential elements—the bird and its perch. The end result of this simplification is a bold graphic presentation.

What format is this?
Hanging scrolls are vertical paintings hung on the wall. Because they can be rolled up and stored in their own box, they were easily changed taking into account the season or mood of the collector.


  1. Compare this work to Flowers and Birds of the Twelve Months by Soken (active 1683–1706). They are both paintings that feature birds, but how are they different? (Soken includes poetry as well as more detailed landscape; this work is a hanging scroll, Soken’s is painted on the screen format).
  2. What is the focus of each painting? (There is no right answer in the case of Soken—it is really a combination of the poetry and his interpretation of it—but Sekka’s focus is the bird, or even the painting surface itself ).
  3. How does the hanging scroll format compare to western style frames?