A monkey sits on a rock with left knee drawn up and right hand on the ground as it gazes fixedly to the upper right. It holds an eagle feather in its left hand and there are other feathers scattered around, so it appears the monkey recently fought with an eagle. Space seems to extend boundlessly from the end of its gaze, evoking a feeling of expansiveness. The sculptor has skillfully expressed the passage of time, the expanse of space, past “activity” and current “stillness” through this depiction of one moment in the monkey's life.
Koun Takamura was born in Asakusa, Tokyo in 1852, close to the end of the Edo period. He learnt how to carve wood while serving an apprenticeship at an atelier that produced Buddhist statues. Around the time of the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when Japan established friendly relations with several modern nations. As Japan imbibed Western art and culture, Takamura created a new style of sculpture by combining the traditional Japanese techniques he had learnt with realistic European styles. This imbued his sculptures with a sense of presence, as if they were narrating a tale to the viewer.
This is one of Takamura's major works. It was exhibited at the World Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and won an award there. Takamura later recounted how he used the wood of a Japanese horse chestnut that had turned reddish brown with age to carve the statue based on observations of a real monkey that he had borrowed from an acquaintance.