Maruyama O_kyo was the founder of a school of naturalist painters in the city of Kyoto in the 18th century. He artfully combined the traditional Japanese decorative compositional approach with elements of Western realism. For this painting of two cranes, O_kyo carefully depicted the birds' plumage and scaly texture of their legs. He also created a convincing sense of space and volume by foreshortening the neck of one of the cranes.
Red-crowned cranes were once ubiquitous throughout the wetlands of China, Korea and Japan. Their impressive size, striking coloration, and lively "dance" made them a popular subject among artists. In East Asian mythology, they are believed to live for 1,000 years, and thus became auspicious symbols of longevity.