Black bear cub in snow by Mori Shūhō
This painting of a black bear cub in the snow is by Japanese artist Mori Shūhō (1728–1813). The small bear with blue eyes looks directly out at us as he sits uneasily on a ledge amid the snowflakes.
Shūhō was a member of the Mori school of painters who specialised in humanised depictions of animals. He was the elder brother of Sosen (1747–1821), the famous painter of monkeys. Though less well regarded than his brother, Shūhō was a respected and prolific artist in his hometown of Osaka. This painting is signed ‘hokkyō (Bridge of the Law) Shūhō', and was done before he attained the highest honorary rank of hōin (Seal of the Law). Shūhō often wrote his age after his signature, as done here, making it possible to chart his career quite closely. He painted this work when he was sixty-two.
This work actually comes from an album of paintings and calligraphy by various artists - an artistic trend which was popular in early-19th-century Japanese art. These albums were made for all sorts of reasons; to celebrate someone’s venerated old age, to wish a friend farewell, for an exhibition; or to commemorate a meeting or visit.
Black bear cub, 1799
Mori Shūhō (1728–1813)
Ink and colour on silk
28 x 23 cm