This rare and exquisitely painted screen, full of detail and sensitive observation, illustrates the elite at play in the pleasure quarters. It is an early example of the distinctive 'ukiyo-e' tradition. The term 'ukiyo-e', literally translated as the 'floating world', was originally a Buddhist expression used to describe the sadly irrelevant and transient nature of the material world and our life on earth. By the seventeenth century Japan's medieval samurai-based culture was being superseded by a newly emergent mercantile class. 'Ukiyo-e' came to define a whole tradition inspired by the colourful lives and times enjoyed by these townspeople, 'chônin', in the pleasure quarters and entertainment districts. Here in a series of vignettes, a picture of the pleasure quarters unfolds: the activities of drinking, taking tea, playing games, listening to music, reading and chatting are all illustrated.
Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 275.
Merrymaking in the garden
Place where the work was made
mid 17th century
single six-panel screen; colour and gold leaf on paper
74.0 x 201.4 cm image; 87.2 x 214.4 cm screen
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 5 exhibitions
The Floating World: Japan's World of transient pleasures, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 May 1994–17 Jul 1994
Beauty and Desire in Edo period Japan, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 06 Jun 1998–09 Aug 1998
Heroes and Villains, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 May 2001–19 Aug 2001
The art of Japanese screen painting, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Nov 2004–06 Feb 2005
Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019
Referenced in 8 publications
Heroes and villains: from Japan's floating world, Sydney, May 2001, 7. cat.no. 3.1
Gary Hickey, Beauty & desire in Edo period Japan, 'Low City, High City', pg. 7-12, Parkes, 1998, 8 (colour illus.), 70. fig.no. 2
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: East Asia', pg. 246-287, Sydney, 1999, 275 (colour illus.).
Jackie Menzies, Orientations, 'Japanese Figure Painting: From the Public to the Personal', pg. 114-119, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 115 (colour illus.). fig.2
Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 223 (colour illus.).
The Floating World: Japan's world of transient pleasures, Sydney, 1994, (colour illus.). cat.no. M1
Jacqueline Menzies, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian', pg. 72-93, Sydney, 1988, 84-85 (colour illus.).
Art speaks Japanese: Japanese language education kit from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, colour illus.. card no. 06