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Asian art

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Episode from 'The bluebell', Chapter 20 of the 'Tale of Genji'

circa 1650-1700


TOSA Mitsuoki


1617 - 1691


This delicately painted hanging scroll illustrates a key episode of Chapter 20. Word of Genji’s flirtations with Princess Asagao (‘Bluebell’) has reached Murasaki. Genji tries to placate her by sending her page girls out into the garden to play in the snow. Mitsuoki has depicted this scene from a bird’s-eye view, giving a sense of distance from the figures which, combined with the supporting beam that separates them, evokes the emotional distance between Genji and Murasaki. He turns toward her, one hand poised hesitantly as if unsure of how to comfort his love, who remains downcast despite his conciliatory efforts. Close inspection reveals superb attention to detail, as demonstrated by the minutely painted mandarin ducks, an ironic evocation of marital fidelity, and the cracked ice on the surface of the nearby pond.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW.


Other Title

Scene from 'Asagao' (The Morning Glory), Chapter 20 of the 'Tale of Genji'

Place where the work was made



circa 1650-1700

Media category


Materials used

hanging scroll; ink and colour on silk


39.6 x 86.2 cm


Purchased 2004


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

TOSA Mitsuoki

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2005, Sydney, 2005, 27 (colour illus.).

Ann MacArthur, Look, 'The Tale of Genji', pg. 13, Sydney, Feb 2008, 13 (colour illus.).

Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Japan Foundation (Editors), Art speaks Japanese: Japanese language education kit from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, colour illus.. card no. 05

Khanh Trinh, Genji - the world of the Shining Prince, 'Imagining the 'Shining Prince' ', pgs. 8-29., Sydney, 2008, 16-17 (colour illus.). fig.6

Encounters and conversations: the painted worlds of legendary and fabled people, 2001.