In this rare sixteenth-century screen we find nature depicted in different seasons reminiscent of Chinese Song dynasty painting. The camellia flowers representing winter, plum blossoms spring, irises and peony early summer and lotus plants mid to late summer. The serenity of the early morning setting is broken by a violent hunting scene where three hawks stalk and attack their prey. Such paintings were highly appreciated by the ruling military lords and the Samurai class of the Muromachi period (1333–1568) who found the pureness of nature and the hunting skills of hawks as symbolic of their own refined lives and warrior-like instincts. During this transitional period of the Japanese aesthetic in painting and cultural tastes we can see Chinese artistic styles slowly adapting unique Japanese sensitivities.
Hagetsu Tōsatsu is recognized as a second generation follower of the great artist Sesshū Tōyō with many aspects of this screen, namely the plum tree, rocks, hawks and herons, greatly resembling Sesshū’s style. Tōsatsu is also considered to have at one time lived and worked from Sesshū’s Unkoku-an (Cloud Valley Hermitage) studio located in current day Yamaguchi prefecture.
Text by Wayne Crothers © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia