A pure-white heron had been a popular theme in Japanese painting since ancient times, no doubt because of its beauty and dignity. It was often depicted in conjunction with a snow-laden willow tree. The two combine, as here, to create a hushed and tranquil atmosphere.
Kaisen (1785-1862) had been a pupil of Go Shun (1752-1811), the artist who began the successful style of the Shijō school of Kyoto. Kaisen left to study under Rai San'yō (1780-1832), however, and moved with him to Kyūshū where for five years he studied Chinese painting of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and Ming dynasty (1368-1644). He was later to become a leading artist of the Chinese-derived Nanga (Southern school) style.
Kaisen here employs various techniques: sotoguma (outside shading) on the branches; sprayed white paint, and tsuketate (a method using no outlines and employing a soft, tapered brush). There is a rich decorative feel to the painting, which reveals the influence of Go Shun's training.
The signature reads 'Kaisen', and the seal 'Hyakkoku', one of his art names, which may have derived in part from one of Go Shun's names, Hyakushōdō.