Komai Genki was a pupil of the renowned painter Maruyama Okyo (1733-95), who is credited with having synthesized elements of western naturalism with Japanese traditional decorative design. A brilliant designer and colorist, Genki was responsible for having popularized the Maruyama style in the late nineteenth century, causing it to become the most popular school of painting in Japan's thriving art culture.
For this pair of folding screens, Genki depicted what appears to be a bucolic riverside scene with cranes and tortoises. In actuality, however, it is a time-honored theme that traces its origins back to ancient China where it was believed that a mythical island inhabited by immortal sages existed somewhere off the eastern coast. According to tradition, the island was borne on the back of an ancient tortoise, and cranes--thought to live for thousands of years--nested in the ancient pine trees that grow on the mountain slopes.