Two-panel screen depicting wrestlers

Historical period(s)
Edo period, 17th century
Color and ink on paper
H x W (overall): 170 x 178 cm (66 15/16 x 70 1/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Screen (two-panel)

Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, sport, ukiyo-e

To 1903
Bunkio Matsuki (1867-1940), Boston, to 1903 [1]

From 1903 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Bunkio Matsuki in 1903 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [2]


[1] See Original Screen List, L. 70, pg. 18, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[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)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Bunkio Matsuki (C.L. Freer source) 1867-1940


Pairs of wrestlers in a walled courtyard engage in practice bouts of sumo, the ancient Japanese form of wrestling that became a professional sport early in the Edo period (1615-1868), when this screen was painted. Still practiced today as Japan's most famous national sport, sumo has a history of some two thousand years, and formal matches retain many of the rituals established in ancient times. 
Observed from a slightly elevated building, wrestlers ranging from youths to mature contenders practice the holds, rushes, and throws that determine the winner in sumo matches. The objective in a match is to force the opponent to touch the ground or to push him outside the rope marking the boundary of the circular ring. A judge in the foreground carefully watches one match as a wrestler is about to be thrown to the ground. This screen provides a realistic view of sumo training in the seventeenth century, as young wrestlers drawn mainly from rural communities prepare for this rigorous sport.

Published References
  • 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.
  • Harold P. Stern. Ukiyo-e Painting: Freer Gallery of Art Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition. Exh. cat. Washington and Baltimore, 1973. cat. 14, pp. 34-35.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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