The Strange Thing Little Kiosai Saw in the River1897 by John La Farge

This small watercolor by John La Farge is striking for both its serenity and its graphic subject matter. Sharing his contemporaries' interest in Japanese woodcuts and drawings, The Strange Thing Little Kiosai Saw In The River is a scene from the life of a famous Japanese painter, who had found a human head floating down the river, most likely a political killing. Kiosai took it, made drawings of it, and then wrapped it in paper laden with prayers for the dead and gave it a proper river burial. La Farge's watercolor shows the head floating serenely on top of the river's surface, its hair floating in the moving water. He adds a pink flower and casts dark brushstrokes to indicate the deep, coursing body of water. Though a scene of grisly decapitation, La Farge only gives hint of the violence by the slight discoloration of the water around the severed head as well as the slight drop of blood underneath its nose.

...Some of the pictures are quasi-historical, such as the startling The Strange Thing Little Kiosai Saw in the River (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a factual account of an episode in the life of the painter, Kiosai. Others are delightfully perplexing, such as the vividly colored and vigorously painted The Aesthete...
[From John La Farge, Watercolors and Drawings
by James L. Yarnall found on Google Books]
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