More about Old Plum


Amongst big waves and horny marine animals, a tree trunk is a relatively tame subject.

If you look closely, that trunk snakes through all the four enormous panels it occupies. Sansetsu, what were you on? No tree in nature does that.

The painting was once a wall of a room in Myoshinji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. By the 1880s, the painting was torn down and given to Kataoka Naoharu, son of a samurai under the Koichi clan.

However, with the Meiji Restoration in full swing during the time he came into his position, the opportunity to walk in public armed with twin swords and slice his enemies into cuts that would make Salt Bae jealous was lost to him as Japan marched toward Westernization. Naoharu would achieve much tamer accomplishments: founder of Nippon Seimi Hoken, a life insurance company in 1899, president of the Kansai Railway Company (and the life insurance company) in 1903, and Minister of Finance in 1927. The last position, unfortunately for Naoharu, would have him go out with a whimper.

On March 14th, 1927, he proclaimed that the Tokyo Watanabe Bank went bankrupt. His words were the tipping point of an economy still recovering from a recent earthquake and World War I. Patrons withdrew their money en masse, destroying whatever financial power the bank had and caused the Showa Financial Crisis, the Great Depression’s Japanese ancestor.

Except, in fact, it wasn’t. Naoharu accidentally caused the Japanese economy to commit seppuku with the wrong words at the worst time. A shameful display. Following the collapse, he and a majority of the Cabinet resigned, ending the current administration and allowing the biggest corporations in Japan, the zaibatsu, to gain power over the banks until the end of World War II. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Despite all this, his last political appointment was to the House of Peers, Japan’s equivalent to the U.S. Senate, in 1930. He practically got off with a slap on the wrist.

Old Plum would find its way to two more individuals: Mizutani Nisaburō and Harry G. C. Packard, who bought it from the former in the 1950s until it was handed over to the Met in 1975. Packard died and was buried in the same city where the painting was born and raised.