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Daily Art Moment: Keisai Eisen

In 2021, the Year of the Ox begins. 1829 was also an ox year. Poets in Mino province commissioned the artist Keisai Eisen to design this special print to commemorate the new year. Privately commissioned prints like these are called surimono and feature expensive materials and techniques.

This small ox figurine, sitting on layered futon mats, would have been stroked by its owner while making a wish. Other elegant objects are arranged nearby, including a lacquered writing box and writing desk, folding fans, and a potted Adonis flower (in Japanese, fukujusō), an auspicious symbol of the New Year. Perhaps the best poem for us, almost 200 years later, is the third one, by Shūchōdō:

Futon are piled up
beneath the stroking-ox,
as wishes woven
in a New Year’s dream
really come true.

Jeannie Kenmotsu, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art⠀

Keisai Eisen (Japanese, 1790-1848), Ox figurine and writing desk, 1829, color woodblock print with metallic pigments and embossing on paper; shikishiban surimono, image: 7 9/16 in x 6 11/16 in; sheet: 7 7/8 in x 6 11/16 in, The Mary Andrews Ladd Collection, 32.728

Notice glints of gold and silver pigments photographed in axial light. You can also see how the embossed contours of the ox figurine are outlined in dark black ink, over a layer of sparkling mica.