Two Crows on a Branch Overlooking Asakusa at Dawn

Hanging scroll: ink and color on silk; 39⅛ x 13¾ in. (99.5 x 34.9 cm); Meiji era (1868–1912), 1883, Signed: Joku Nyūdo Kyōsai zu, Sealed: Bankoku tobu (Flying over many lands), Provenance: Josiah Conder, Published: Conder, Josiah. 1911. Paintings and Studies by Kawanabe Kyosai: An Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings, Studies and Sketches, by the Above Artist, with Explanatory Notes on the Principles, Materials and Technique, of Japanese Painting. Tokyo, Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore: The Maruzen Kabushiki Kaisha, Kelly and Walsh, Ltd. , no. 51, Pl. XII., Winkel and Magnussen, Copenhagen. 1942. Doktor Josiah Conder’s Samling Af Japansk Kunst. Auct. cat. Jun 1st–3rd, 1942, lot 149., Kawanabe Kusumi et al. 2015. Gaki Kyōsai/Kyosai: Master painter and his student Josiah Conder. Exh. cat. Tokyo: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum Foundation. No. 48, p. 67.

Crows are a signature subject of the great nineteenth century painter Kawanabe Kyōsai, and the Conder Two Crows on a Branch Overlooking Asakusa at Dawn is one of the most famous examples. Conder himself commented on the painting on page 106 of his book cited above:

This is one of Kyosai’s best paintings of crows. The forms of the birds are most powerfully dashed in with black ink, the half-tones washed with a lighter ink, and the beaks, eyes, and claws sharply outlined with a fine brush. The tree branches and foliage, in the upper part of the picture, are boldly drawn in different shades of ink; and, at the bottom of the painting a distant view of the temple and trees of Asakusa is shown, softly washed with streaks of mist out of which appears the red orb of the rising sun. the picture is a beautiful example of chiaroscuro obtained by ink shades of different degrees of intensity….

Last seen in public at auction in Denmark in 1942, it’s whereabouts were unknown by scholars until it appeared at Christie’s in London in 2013. Students of Kyōsai were forced to rely on the image published in Conder’s book. The Kyōsai scholar Timothy Clark referred to the painting in his masterly catalogue of the master’s work as a “wonderful hanging scroll of two crows.” (See Clark, Timothy. 1993 Demon of Painting: The Art of Kawanabe Kyōsai. Exh. cat. London: British Museum Press, p. 149).

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