Scholar's pavilion by a stream

Uragami Gyokudō (Japanese, 1745 - 1820)1745/1820

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum
San Francisco, United States

Uragami Gyokudo was known in his day as a poet,calligrapher, and especially as a musician, playing and composing new music for the Chinese sevenstring qin. This instrument for centuries has been especially beloved by poets and sages; its soft low tones are suitable for meditation or for playing for a close friend. Halfway through his life, Gyokudo gave up his samurai-official position and began wandering through Japan, carrying his qin. It was in these years that he painted the landscapes that at the time were appreciated only by a small circle of literati. Now the situation is reversed; Gyokudo is highly appreciated as a painter, while his music is almost completely forgotten. Yet it was his qin music that gave him a unique approach to painting.

On the qin, the same note may be played by different means, on different strings and plucked or flicked with different fingers. As a result, what may sound like the same note is never the same, always showing slight tonal differences. Similarly, in Gyokudo’s calligraphy of his title and signature, there are similar strokes, such as the swelling and diminishing horizontal or diagonal lines moving to the right. On close viewing, however, these too vary in the length, width, and angle. Examination of the title and signature reveal that Gyokudo applied the same approach of varying similar strokes in his calligraphy.

In his paintings, Gyokudo seems to repeatbrushstrokes many times—horizontal dashes with an upward thrust, downward curving parallel lines, washes of different tones of gray, and clusters of dots—but they are all slightly different in tone, form, and rhythm, creating his powerful personal style. Humanity is represented only by a waterside pavilion, sandwiched tightly between two landmasses that seem to vibrate with pulsating energy. But wait—there are also a few roofs barely to be seen, almost smothered by the horizontal dashes that indicate foliage. Most notable are the larger trees and mountains that surge upwards; they are built up by layers of overlapping wet and dry, dark and light, short or longer strokes of the brush in different tonalities of ink, accented and reinforced by black dots. Mastering these techniques allowed Gyokudo to create a counterpoint of overlapping rhythms that evokes an almost unnerving vision of nature. For anyone who has been through a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, this vision is not unfamiliar; it emboldened Gyokudo to express his understanding of the elemental forces that abide and endure behind everyday life in the natural world.


  • Title: Scholar's pavilion by a stream
  • Creator: Uragami Gyokudō (Japanese, 1745 - 1820)
  • Date Created: 1745/1820
  • Location Created: Japan
  • Physical Dimensions: H. 110.8 cm x W. 61.9 cm (image) H. 191.5 cm x W. 72.5 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Hanging scroll; Ink on paper
  • Credit Line: Gift from The Collection of George Gund III, 2016.56

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