7710 A two-fold paper screen painted in ink, colour, gold and cut silver leaf, depicting the scene “Yugiri (Evening Mist)” from the Tale of Genji
Japan, 17th century, Edo period
Dimensions: H. 170.5 cm x W. 172 cm (67¼” x 67¾”)
The title of chapter 39, Yugiri (literally means Evening Mist), is taken from its protagonist Yugiri, the eldest son of Hikaru Genji, and its main theme is Yugiri’s unrequited love to the Second Princess Ochiba.
In the autumn of his 29th year Yugiri visited a villa where Ochiba and her ill mother Lady Ichijo had moved to, with the excuse to see the health of her sick mother. Towards sunset a heavy mist started to rise and cover the coloured leaves on the hillside. Seeing the evening mist which obscured his pathway home and wishing to spend a night there with Ochiba, Yugiri sent her a poem:
aware wo souru yugiri ni
Tachiidemu sora mo naki kokochi shite
At this villa in a mountain base
the evening mist that deepens one’s sentiment and sorrows
prevents me from leaving this place
The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) was written over 1,000 years ago by a lady-in-waiting of the Heian Imperial court known as Lady Murasaki (978-1016). A monumental work of literature consisting of 54 chapters (over 1,000 pages of text in its English translation) is composed of mini-sagas of the life and romances of the Prince Hikaru Genji and two generations of his descendants. This tour de force of literature is generally considered to be the world’s first true novel, and certainly the first psychological novel ever written with an incredible sense of interiority.
The influence of the Tale of Genji has been unprecedented. The aristocrats depicted in the tale were the objects of admiration throughout the history of Japanese literature – a group of noble elites were sensitive to the beauty of nature and accomplished at poetry, music, calligraphy and fine clothing. The idealised characters in particular Genji were the quintessential manifestation of the aristocratic ideals and sensibility of Heian period (794-1185) however also attracted the readers’ sympathy as they also had flaws and weakness that anyone could have. The Tale of Genji soon became the source of cultural education and refinement for the nobles in the later periods from Kamakura period (1185-1333) onwards and became a rich inspiration for the artists – the characters and the scenes of the tale were popular subjects for screen and scroll paintings over the centuries in Japan.