A comic scene in ink on paper of boys herding oxen by Nagasawa Rosetsu spreads across these two low screens. The central characters, one in the lead the second astride one of the behemoths crossing a bridge is distracted by a butterfly floating by above while the beast in front steps on its own rope, pulling his head back to the viewer with a quizzical expression. Other oxen and boys populate the background. All is performed in very soft gray tones with abbreviated detail as if viewed through summer haze, with the leads in dark, quick strokes, creating a dynamic juxtaposition and sense of immediacy. Originally either part of a larger scene, or, more likely, taken from Fusuma doors. They bear the artists seal on one edge. The screens are 188 x 97 cm (74 x 38 inches) and are in fine condition considering their age. A lay Zen practitioner, the motif of ox herding was likely very close to the artists heart, for it is often used metaphorically to describe the stages of a practitioner's progress toward enlightenment (reference the 10 ox herding pictures).
There are many unconfirmed stories of the origins of this artist, what we know is Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) was born somewhere in the Kansai region near the capitol and moved to Kyoto in 1781, where he became a student of Maruyama Ōkyo. He would later leave Okyo, developing a style unique to himself, and would come to be known as one of the Eccentrics of the Edo period, along with Ito Jakuchu and Soga Shohaku. He worked directly for the Lord of Yodo, a castle town between Kyoto and Osaka. His unorthodox style garnered him many fans, and his paintings decorate the doors and ceilings of a number of Temples throughout the region. According to Hillier in The Uninhibited Brush (1974) “Rosetsu's paintings fall into two very clearly defined categories, with no halfway stage in between. On the one hand, there are those of studied finish, and on the other, those--the great majority--that were clearly the work of a very few minutes of intense activity, whatever the preliminary thought and calculation. We are inclined to think of the first type as early and even untypical, but in fact Rosetsu seems to have executed carefully finished paintings at all stages of his career”. Much copied, genuine works by him are decidedly rare.