Fireflies Over the Uji River by Moonlight

Artist: Suzuki Shōnen (Japanese, 1849–1918)

Period: Meiji period (1868–1912)

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk

Dimensions: Image: 48 3/4 x 19 1/2 in. (123.8 x 49.5 cm)
Overall with mounting: 79 1/2 x 25 3/4 in. (201.9 x 65.4 cm)
Overall with knobs: 79 1/4 x 28 in. (201.3 x 71.1 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, by exchange, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.72


This atmospheric picture of shining fireflies traveling above the grass-flanked Uji River in a distant suburb of Kyoto derives its theme from the famous eleventh-century novel The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu. Chapter 45 tells of a widowed prince who is a devout Buddhist and lives in the secluded suburbs along the Uji River with his two young daughters. A central scene in the chapter tells of a clandestine visit by a youthful male courtier and his attempts to overhear the music and conversation of the two young ladies. The courtier secretly listens outside their veranda in the dark night. He is hindered, however, by the loud noise of the rushing Uji and by the night's rain and heavy mist. The inky night and heavy atmosphere of the story are conveyed in this painting by the dark sky, and the clamor of the Uji is suggested by the streaming water and the wind-swept reeds.
Suzuki Shonen was a professional painter of Kyoto who specialized in landscape. The son of a painter, he received a number of commissions from local temples and taught Japanese-style painting at the Kyoto Prefectural School of Painting.