Gessen was a monk in Jakushōji Temple in the old city of Ise. He was strongly influenced by the styles of Maruyama Ōkyō (1733-1795) and Yosa Buson (1716-1783). Working at first with the temperate and elegant style of the Maruyama Shijō School of painting, he eventually succeeded in developing his own artistic style.
Gessen eagerly consumed the art of the Muromachi period and of China. At the same time, he showed a strong interest in western-style art, which at the time represented the vanguard of the Japanese art world. We can tell this from an anecdote from Shiba Kōkan (1747-1818), one of the earliest painters to work in a style influenced by western art. When Kōkan came to Ise, Gessen treated him with dinner and liquor, but Gessen probed him so intently about the techniques of western art that Kōkan got up and ran away. Dongfang Shuo is a relatively large work for Gessen, who created mostly smaller works. The peaches, also known as “fruits of the immortals,” are a symbol of longevity. According to Chinese legend, a man named Dongfang Shuo stole one of the peaches of a Daoist immortal called Xi Wangmu. When Dongfang ate the peach, he gained the mystical powers of the other immortals, and he lived to be eight hundred years old. Because of his longevity, he has been seen as an auspicious figure since ancient times, and therefore, he often appears in paintings. The use of shading on his figure and the realistic treatment of the fruit and leaves reveal the influence of western-style painting. They also indicate Gessen’s desire to depict things as he really saw them and to use painting as a way of examining things as they actually are. The date of this work is unknown, but some believe Gessen painted this work in his early thirties soon after he came to Ise.