Collection Online

Tales of Genji
(late 17th century)

six panel folding screen: ink, gold paint and pigments on gold leaf on paper, lacquer on wood, paper, silk, metallic thread, brass
151.0 × 364.0 cm (image and sheet)
Place/s of Execution
Accession Number
Asian Art
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jason Yeap through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, 2011
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Gordon Darling Foundation
Gallery location
Not on display
Physical description
This screen is painted in the style of the Tosa school that was established in the Muromachi period (1392–1568) and produced official court painters who perpetuated the decorative tradition of the Yamato-e (Japanese-style picture), ––which came into being in the late Heian period (AD 898–1185). The screen is evocative rather than illustrate scenes from the Tale of Genji, The screen is read from right to left. In the upper right corner, a majestic procession accompanying a carriage is depicted. It is led by a man, probably a falconer, holding a falcon. He is accompanied by a dog on a leash. In the back several attendants are holding branches with perched falcons. It is possible that this scene is evocative of Chapter 18, Wind in the Pines (Matsukaze) in which Prince Genji hosts a group of falconers, who presented to him with a sample of their game tied to autumn reeds. In the centre of the screen is a beautiful scene of courtiers playing ball under cherry blossoms. This scene is evocative of Chapter 8, The Festival of Cherry Blossoms (Hana no En). The interior scene in the left lower corner probably belongs to the same scene. The viewer looks down into the interior which has the roof removed. The court ladies with their long hair and voluminous drapery create an intriguing abstract geometric design. The scene in the upper left corner is a scene possibly evocative of chapter 3, The Shell of the Locust (Utsusemi), in which Prince Genji secretly observes Utsusemi playing Go (a form of chess) with her stepdaughter. Genji was pursuing Utsusemi (meaning `Shell of the Locust’), who was the orphaned daughter of a guards officer and the wife of a much older man of modest means. The scenes are immersed in a dreamlike gold mist and clouds, which is so in tune with the fantasy and legends of the novel, which is inhabited by doll like inhabitants.