Female Ghost carrying off a Male Severed Head by Kawanabe Kyosai

There was a significant vogue for paintings and prints of ghosts in Japan in the 19th century and many restless spirits of the dead haunt Kabuki plays and public storytelling of that period.


Ink, colour & gold on paper on textile mounting
107 x 38 cm
Art Fund grant:
£5,000 ( Total: £25,000)
Acquired in:
Partrick Syz

Kyosai's ghost paintings were among those collected by the master storyteller San'yutei Encho, and exhibited each summer at Zensho-an Temple,Tokyo with ghost stories told in front of them. This example is among the most fascinating: blood drips from the ghost's fangs, and her hooded green eyes are creepily embellished with gold. Tugging herself upwards by the hair, she glides up and away with shrieking grimace on an ectoplasmic cloud. By contrast, the calm, almost resigned, expression of the severed head is all the more unsettling. Ghost paintings were traditionally hung at the stifling height of summer when any chill down the spine was welcome relief.


Private collection, Switzerland; Mr Patrick Syz.

Venue details

British Museum Great Russell Street, LONDON London WC1B 3DG 020 7323 8181 www.britishmuseum.org

Entry details

50% off with National Art Pass

Daily, 10am – 5.30pm (Fri until 8.30pm)

Closed 24 – 26 Dec and 1 Jan