This work showcases the artistry of Sōtatsu and the Tawaraya studio through one of their most prominent genres, the “floating fans” screen. An indisputable chain of provenance shows that the screens have been in Japan’s imperial collection since they were made in the 1620s. They are the most prominent of a group of screens featuring fans—all associated with the Tawaraya studio and Tōshichirō, one of Sōtatsu’s talented disciples.
There are three fans per panel, for a total of forty-eight. Most of the fans represent scenes from the military epics Tales of Hōgen and Tales of Heiji; others depict scenes from the courtly classic Tales of Ise or birds and flowers. Based on style and subject matter, the fans appear to have been painted at the same time, and the paper seams indicate that one of them was actually used as a folding fan.
A conservation project revealed that document fragments were inserted within the screens; they suggest a high-ranking patron as early as 1619 but certainly in the 1620s. Some layers of the gauze silk borders are original, and the purple border with chrysanthemum designs indicates high aristocratic patronage. The inscription “Tawaraya Tōshichirō” was found on the reverse of one fan, one of eighteen bearing the seal Tatō, thus linking the seal to Tōshichirō. Clearly, he was a painter with enough status to use his own seal. Several fans have versions of the I’nen seal, suggesting other participants and perhaps Sōtatsu himself. Tōshichirō’s works all had a military theme, which may mean he specialized in epics and in figural painting.
Painted Fans Mounted on a Screen
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40) and Tōshichirō
Japan, early 17th century
Pair of eight-panel folding screens
Ink, colors, and gold on paper
Sannomaru Shōzōkan, Museum of the Imperial Collections, Tokyo