Larry’s Treasures: The Larry Ellison Collection of Japanese Art

Larry Ellison is better known to the world as the highly competitive co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Oracle Corp as well as one of the world’s richest person. What many people may not know, however, is that Ellison is also an art lover who has built a fine collection of classical Japanese art. Ellison’s collection, while not large in numbers, includes many works of exception quality spanning a thousand years of Japanese artistic achievements. The earliest objects in the collection date to the Heian period (9th–10th century) and the latest, to the modern Showa period from 1926 to 1989. Most of the artworks are from the golden age of Japanese culture, the Edo era (1603–1868), including a number of paintings of the Rinpa style school, known for its vitality of colors, and the Kyoto school of the 18th century with its distinctive and charming depictions of animals such as cats and puppies, deer and cranes. Completing the collection are works of the earlier Kano style (15th–early 16th century) which looked to Chinese paintings and literature as well as Japanese literary classics as key sources of inspiration.

Selected Artworks from the Larry Ellison Collection

Seated Shinto deity, Heian period, 9th-10th cent. Wood. H: 37 in.

This large austere figure depicts a Shinto priest and dates to the Heian period in the 9th to 10th century. It is a rare example of a sculpture that shows the early influence of Buddhism in Japan.

Standing Shotoku Taishi at age two, Kamakura period (1185-1333), colors and lacquer on wood with crystal inlay in the eyes. H. 27.5 in.

An outstanding sculpture in the Larry Ellison collection is this gentle, meditative figure of two-year prince Shotoku Taishi. An ardent Buddhist devotee and founder of two important temples, the prince is regarded by the Japanese as a divine being. Here, he is shown in a prayerful posture, wearing hakama trousers that softly billow around his feet. Sculptural images of this form – called the “Prince praising the Buddha” or Namubutsu Taishi – appear for the first time during the Kamakura period (1185–1333). From the late 12th century forward to the Edo period, many such statutes were made but only a few hundreds have survived.


“The Tale of Genji,” a 1,300-page tome written more than 1,000 years ago by a lady-in-waiting at the court of a Japanese emperor, is often described as the first’s first novel, and a touchstone of Japanese literature. The work is a unique depiction of the lifestyles of high courtiers during the Heian period. It became, for many centuries after its debut, a frequent source of inspiration for Japanese novelists, poets, and artists. Below is a sumptuous screen painting depicting scenes from the novel by the 16th-century artist, Kano Sōshū.

Detail of scenes from the classic love story, the Tale of Genji, by Kano Sōshū (1551–1601). One of a pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper.

In the same style as the above work is a painting by Kano Sansetsu, a contemporary of Kano Sōshū featuring pines, bamboo, plum, cranes and turtles, auspicious symbols derived from Chinese culture.

“Auscipicious Pines, Bamboo, Plum, Cranes and Turtles”, by Kano Sansetsu (1590 – 1651), Edo period. One of six-panel folding screen in ink, colors and gold on paper, 67 x 150 in.
Another panel from the six-panel folding screen by Kano Sansetsu.

Several masterful animal paintings of 18th century Kyoto artists are represented in the Ellison collection. Among them are two hanging scrolls by Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795), the first depicting two lively tigers and the other, a young cat sweetly asleep under a smallish plant whose leaves grow close to the ground.

“Tiger”, Maruyama Okyo, 18th century. Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 46 x 21 in.

“Sleeping cat”, Maruyama Okyo, 18th century. Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 14.5 x 14 in.

The next three works are hanging scrolls by the mid-Edo painter, Ito Jakuchu, who is known for his experimentation with perspective and semi-abstract painting style.

“Sweetfish”, by Ito Jakuchu (1716 -1800), Kyoto school, Edo period, c. 1752. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk. 41.5 x 19 in.

“Crane”, by Ito Jakuchu (1716–1800), Kyoto school, Edo period. Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 45.5 x 11.5 in.

“Mynah bird in a persimmon tree”, by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800), Edo period, Kyoto school, 1763. Hanging scroll, ink on paper. 44 x 12 in.

Next, two exquisite works by the Edo-period painter, Suzuki Kitsu (1796–1858).

“Jurojin, Deer and Cranes”, by Suzuki Kitsu (1796–1858), Edo period, Rinpa school, c. 1844-58. Pair of hanging scrolls from a set of three. Ink and colors on silk, 37 x 14 in each.

Details of “Jurojin, Deer and Cranes”, by Suzuki Kitsu (1796–1858). One of a set of three hanging scrolls.

Details of “Jurojin, Deer and Cranes”, by Suzuki Kitsu (1796–1858). One of a set of three hanging scrolls.

Below, a lovely Rinpa-style painting by Suzuki Kitsu (1796-1858) depicting spring and autumn foliage executed in ink, colors and gold on silk

Detail of Spring and Autumn Plants, by Suzuki Kitsu (1796–1858), Edo period, Rinpa school, c. 1850s. Pair of two panel folding screen. Ink, colors and gold on silk. 60 x 66 in

I end this visual tour with a beautiful 1920s-era folding screen by Usumi Kiho (born 1873). The scene shows a peacock with her glorious tail fanned out. Close by, a raven turns back and stares intriguing at one of the peacock’s loose feathers as if resigned to her lack of beauty compared to the bigger bird.

“Peacock and Raven”, by Usumi Kiho (b. 1873), Taisho period, c, 1912-1926. Pair of a six-panel folding screen. Ink, colors, silver, gold and lacquer on silk. 69 x 138 in each. The second panel is shown below.

Further study

Laura W. Allen, Melissa M. Rinne, and Emily J. Sano, In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2013.

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