A Puppet-show: The Story of The Potted Trees

Artist: Bunkaku
Historical period(s)
Edo period, early 18th century
Ink, color, and gold on paper
H x W: 152.6 x 377 cm (60 1/16 x 148 7/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Screen (six-panel)

Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, music, musician, puppetry, shamisen, theater, ukiyo-e

To 1898
Edward S. Hull Jr., New York to 1898 [1]

From 1898 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Edward S. Hull Jr. in 1898 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Reserved Screen List, R. 2, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Edward S. Hull Jr. was Ernest Francisco Fenollosa’s (1853-1908) lawyer. Hull often acted as an agent, facilitating purchases of objects consigned to him by Fenollosa, as well as purchases of objects consigned to him by Fenollosa's well-known associate, Bunshichi Kobayashi (see correspondence, Hull to Freer, 1898-1900, as well as invoices from E.S. Hull Jr., 1898-1900, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives). See also, Ingrid Larsen, "'Don’t Send Ming or Later Pictures': Charles Lang Freer and the First Major Collection of Chinese Painting in an American Museum," Ars Orientalis vol. 40 (2011), pgs. 15 and 34. See further, Thomas Lawton and Linda Merrill, Freer: A Legacy of Art, (Washington, DC and New York: Freer Gallery of Art and H. N. Abrams, 1993), pgs. 133-134.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Edward S. Hull Jr. (C.L. Freer source)
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


This rare painting depicts the stage of the Takemoto theater in Osaka during a performance of the puppet play, The Woman's Potted Dwarf Trees. The story takes place during the reign of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-1263), a leader of the recently formed Kamakura military government. A retainer of that government, Tsuneyo, fell into disfavor and was banished. One snowy night Tsuneyo and his wife, living in much diminished circumstances, received a traveling monk seeking shelter. Tsuneyo, embarrassed by his poverty, turned the monk away, but his wife persuaded him to show mercy. When firewood had been used up, Tsuneyo removed beloved dwarf trees (bonsai) from their pots and burned them to provide warmth for his guest. Later, Tsuneyo's generous hospitality was rewarded with reinstatement, because the monk was really a high government official traveling in disguise. Until the late nineteenth century this painting remained in a family of theater musicians founded by Tsuruzawa Tomojiro (died 1747). The painting's vitality and detail suggest the passion for all types of theater performance during the Edo period (1615-1868).

Published References
  • Harold P. Stern, Narasaki Muneshige. Ukiyo-e shuka. vol. 16, Tokyo. vol. 16: pl. 22.
  • Zaigai hiho [(Japanese Paintings in Western Collections]. 3 vols., Tokyo. vol. 3: pt. I, pl. 42.
  • Shizuya Fujikaka. Ukiyoe no kenkyu [Study on Ukiyoe]. 3 vols., Tokyo. vol. 2: pl. 147.
  • Laurence Binyon. Painting in the Far East: An Introduction to the History of Pictorial Art in Asia Especially China and Japan., 1st ed. London and New York, 1908 - 1969. opposite p. 182, pl. 32.
  • Arthur Morrison. The Painters of Japan. 2 vols., London and Edinburgh. vol. 1: opposite page 124, pl. 39.
  • Ann Arbor Art Association. Exhibition of Oriental and American Art: Under the Joint Auspices of the Alumni Memorial Committee and the Ann Arbor Art Association, on the Occasion of the Opening of the Alumni Memorial Hall, University of Michigan. Exh. cat. Ann Arbor and Detroit, May 11 - May 30, 1910. opposite page 8.
  • Gaston Migeon. Chefs-d'œuvre d'art japonais. Paris. pl. 4, no. 18.
  • Laurence Binyon. Japanese Art. International art series London and Leipzig. opposite page 37.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 86, vol. 2: p. 178.
  • Buffalo Fine Arts Academy. Catalogue of the Fifth Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists. Exh. cat. Buffalo, May 11 - September 1, 1910. p. 2.
  • Elisabeth West FitzHugh. A Pigment Census of Ukiyo-e Paintings in the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 11 Washington and Ann Arbor, 1979. pp. 27-38.
  • Bonnie C. Wade. Music in Japan: experiencing music, expressing culture. New York. p. 57, fig. 3.1.
  • Harold P. Stern. Ukiyo-e Painting: Freer Gallery of Art Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition. Exh. cat. Washington and Baltimore, 1973. cat. 40, pp. 98-101.
  • Haruo Suwa, Junichi Shinoda, Tatsuya Tsuji. Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Zusetsu Nihon no koten, vol. 16 Tokyo. pp. 106-107, pl. 166.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 128.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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