Pigeons at Sensōji (Asakusa Kannon Temple)

The scene is autumnal. Pigeons are variously comported in front of the main complex of building at Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon Temple) in Tokyo. The location is indicated in the inscription. Falling gingko leaves suggest the season. The atmosphere seems to evoke clouds of incense or the settling in of a dusky haze.

Artist: Watanabe Seitei 渡辺省亭 (1851-1918)
Historical period(s)
Meiji era, 1877
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 180 x 112.5 cm (70 7/8 x 44 5/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

bodhisattva, Buddhism, incense, Japan, kakemono, Meiji era (1868 - 1912), pigeon, temple

Giuseppe de Nittis (1846-1884), purchased at Exposition Universelle de 1878, Paris, France [1]

1884- ?
Léontine Lucile (Gruvelle) De Nittis (1843-1913), inherited upon death of her husband [2]

Unidentified French Collector [3]

Robert G. Sawers Ltd., London, purchased from an unidentified French collector [4]

From 2000
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Robert G. Sawers Ltd. [5]


[1] Giuseppe De Nittis was an Italian-born impressionist painter who studied alongside Édouard Manet. He lived and worked in both Paris, France and Barletta, Italy. Inspired by the arts of Japan, he developed a small, albeit significant, collection of Japanese works.
This painting is likely the same kakemono depicting pigeons "frolicking at the edge of a stone basin," which De Nittis purchased at the Exposition Universelle. See Louis Gonse, "L'Art Japonais" [book] Tome 1 (Paris: A Quantin, 1883), p. 307 and Edmond de Goncourt, "La Maison d'un Artist" [book] Tomb 2 (Paris: G. Charpentier, 1881), p. 351.
The painting remained in De Nittis' collection until his death in 1884. See Manuela Moscatiello, "La collection d'art japonais e Giuseppe De Nittis" in "Arts Asiatiques" [Journal] Vol. 59 (2004), pp. 127 and 132. The probate inventory prepared after De Nittis' death is reproduced in Moscatiello's article, p. 132. Watanabe Seitei's painting is likely the work itemized as "un panneau en soie, les pigeons, prise soixante francs" (silk panel, pigeons, valued sixty francs)."

[2] When her husband died, Léontine De Nittis inherited all her husband's collections. Faced with substantial debt after his passing, she sold off select works to individual collectors. There was never a large, public sale. When Léontine died in 1913, she bequeathed her property and the remainder of her husband's estate to the Town Hall of Barletta, Italy, where Giuseppe was born. One can see this the De Nittis Collection at the Palazzo Della Marra in Barletta, Italy. See Moscatiello, 131.

This work never went to Barletta. Rather, Léontine sold this painting sometime after De Nittis death, while living in Paris.

[3] See note 4.

[4] Robert G. Sawers, owner of the London-based gallery, Robert G. Sawers Ltd. reported that the painting had been in France since shortly after the date inscribed on the painting, 1877, and that he purchased it from a French collector. Sawers did not identify the French collector. See acquisition justification, February 2000.

Between 1972 and 2015, Robert G. Sawers owned and operated the gallery Robert G. Sawers Ltd. in West Hampstead, London. He specialized in the sale of Japanese prints and drawings.

[5] The Freer Gallery of Art purchased the work from Robert G. Sawers Ltd. on February 8, 2000. See Robert G. Sawers Ltd. invoice, original in object file.

Research updated February 28, 2023.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Robert G. Sawers Ltd.
Léontine Lucile de Nittis 1843 - 1913
Giuseppe de Nittis


The scene is autumnal. Pigeons are variously comported in front of the main complex of building at Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon Temple) in Tokyo. The location is indicated in the inscription. Falling gingko leaves suggest the season. The atmosphere seems to evoke clouds of incense or the settling in of a dusky haze.


The work is signed in gold and dated using a peculiar system adopted by the Meiji government in which a national era called "Kigen" was inaugurated. The year corresponding to 600 BC was the "First Year of Kigen," thus, this painting created in 1877 bears the date Kigen 2,573. The artist's signature is rendered "Seitei Watanabe Yoshimata," presenting, in sequence, a studio name, family name and personal name.

Published References
  • Noji Koichiro. "渡辺省亭筆 浅草寺の鳩." Watanabe Seitei's Pigeons at Sensō-ji. No. 1478 Tokyo, Japan, December 20, 2018. pl. 4.
  • Akiko Futura. "渡辺省亭 晴柳の影に." Watanabe Seitei In the Shadow of the Seiryu. Tokyo, Japan, July 5, 2021. plate 1.
  • Akiko Furuta. "評伝渡邊省亭 晴柳の影に." Hyōden Watanabe Seitei: Seiryū no kage ni. Japan. Plate 2.
  • Ellen P. Conant, Steven D. Owyoung, J. Thomas Rimer. Nihonga: Trancending the Past: Japanese-Style Painting, 1868-1968. Exh. cat. St. Louis and Tokyo. .
  • Kit Brooks. Watanabe Seitei's Pigeons in a Temple Ground. vol. 1, no. 10, 10. Washington, D.C., Spring 2021. p. 10.
  • Tokyo University of the Arts. "渡辺省亭-欧米を魅了した花鳥画." Watanabe Seitei, Flower-and-Bird Paintings That Fascinated Europe and the United States. Tokyo, Japan, March 2021. pp. 13, 19, fig. 3.
  • Yūji Yamashita, Ryō Furuta. "渡辺省亭." Watanabe Shotei. Tokyo, Japan, February 26, 2022. p. 26-27.
  • Yūji Yamashita, Ryō Furuta. "渡辺省亭画集." Masterpieces of Watanabe Seitei. Tokyo, Japan, March 2021. p. 40, plate 7.
  • Kit Brooks. "And the Bird's Beak Became a Bird": Watanabe Seitei's Pigeons at Sensō-ji. vol. 42, no. 1 Lexington, Massachusetts, 2021. p. 148-149, fig. 1a and 1b.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.

Related Objects