Landscape painting

Kyoto National Museum

Landscape painting
Sansui (lit. mountains and water), or the landscape, is a major subject of Oriental painting. The genre encompasses both forbidding mountains and oceans, and famous scenic spots. Some are actual landscapes, while others are imaginary, created by combining images of mountains and rivers into a composition. The landscapes could be either foreign or domestic. Tracing the evolution of landscape representation allows the discovery of diverse artistic styles, diverse worldviews, and diverse and shifting attitudes towards interactions with the outside world.

Landscape Screen (Senzui Byōbu)
11th Century


This folding screen, which originally belonged to Tō-ji, the renowned monastery of the Shingon sect, was used in the esoteric Buddhist initiation ritual, kanjō. Formerly used by courtiers as decorative interior furnishings, such screens were converted for ritual use to provide a dignified ambience in this Buddhist ceremony. As the initiation ritual became popularly observed in the twelfth century, the form of the ceremony as well as the motifs of the screens gradually came to be formalized. The painting here, thought to date to the latter half of the eleventh century, is the oldest extant screen of this type and exemplifies an interior furnishing from the period of imperial rule in Japan.

Although the theme is unclear, the motif is of Chinese origin, making the work a Chinesestyle painting (kara-e in Japanese). The depicted style also comes from China, from the Tang dynasty, though the work here lacks the severity of Chinese paintings. According to Masakane Kyō ki, the journal of Lord Fujiwara no Masakane (1079–1143), the late-ninth-century court painter Kanaoka of the Kose school painted as many as fifteen mountains, while the early eleventh-century artist Hirotaka depicted five or six, indicating that rendering mountains repetitively in a single scene no longer prevailed in Hirotaka’s time. The present painting can be understood to follow this latter trend. The refined, gentle style here reflects the “Japanese cultural” nature of this work.

Amida beyond the Mountains (Yamagoshi Amida)
13th Century


Yamagoshi Amida, or Amitābha beyond the Mountains, refers to paintings of the Buddha Amida appearing from the other side of the mountains to welcome devotees on their deathbed. This characteristically Japanese theme may have originally been based on the esoteric Buddhist practice of contemplating on the moon, imposed with the image of the Buddha’s enlightened countenance. For this reason, the prototype for such paintings often has a strong frontal composition. This hanging scroll, however, can be characterized by the pictorial depiction of the scenery and captures Amida and his retinue appearing diagonally from between the mountains as if they are about to welcome the devotee.

Although it is not altogether clear whether to read the title yamagoe (coming over the mountains) or yamagoshi (beyond the mountains), the ancient Japanese view of the next world lying beyond the mountains influenced the development of this theme, hence, the reading yamagoshi seems to more befitting. In other words, yamagoshi can be understood as Amida waiting to receive the spirit of the deceased who heads to the other world beyond the mountains. If the title is interpreted as such, the way the painting is expressed here somewhat diminishes its original meaning.

Although the restoration of this hanging scroll has been skillfully executed, the loss of silk around Amida’s chest and right palm suggests that the traditional five-colored strings, connecting Amida to the dying devotee, were originally attached to the painting, which was likely to have been actually hung near the deathbed of the devotee who held the strings at the other end in the final moments of life. The co-founder of the newspaper company The Asahi Shimbun, Ueno Riichi (1848–1919) , which was renowned since the pre-war Japan.

View of Lakes and Mountains
by Shōkei / Inscriptions by Kōshi Ehō
15th Century


Although little is known about Shōkei, from the painting style and the date in which the inscriber died, it appears that he was a painter-priest who was active around the mid-fifteenth century. While he was known to have produced paintings of Daoist and Buddhist figures such as Hotei (Ch. Budai; Kyoto National Museum) and Kanzan and Jittoku (Ch. Hanshan and Shide; The Tokugawa Art Museum), his landscapes are also extraordinary.

The painting here is an excellent example, in which a vivid, expansive scenery is magnificently rendered through exquisite composition and delicate brushwork. The goldpainted haze throughout is also effective in creating the vibrant scenery. Shōkei’s landscape appears more sophisticated and refined than that of his mentor (or perhaps teacher), Shūbun (a priest of Shōkoku-ji Temple and an official painter for the Ashikaga shogunate).

Kōshi Ehō, whose inscription appears above the painting, was a priest of Tōfuku-ji Temple who had visited Ming-dynasty China and was acquainted with the elebrated painter Sesshū (1420–1506?). Here, he wrote that the landscape in this painting reminded him of a view he saw at West Lake in Hangzhou during his travels to China.

16th Century


Sesshū painted this tour de force in the last years of his life based on a sketch he made when he visited Tango in northern Kyoto prefecture in 1501 (Bunki 1).

Near the center of the work are the white sandbar and pine trees of Amanohashidate (“Bridge to Heaven”) and Chion-ji Temple, which is renowned for its Monju (Skt. Mañjuśrī) cult.

Above this is the Sea of Aso, on whose distant shores lie the town of Fuchū with its temples and shrines crowded together. Towering over this expansive scenery is a massive mountain, home to Nariai-ji Temple, which is also a sacred ground for Kannon (Skt. Avalokiteśvara).

Below, in the foreground, is the Bay of Miyazu and running along the bottom of the composition is the mountain range of Kunda Peninsula.

While the painting appears to be a realistic rendition of the landscape based on observation, Sesshū experimented with this wide format by depicting the mountain on which Nariaiji is located as a soaring peak and lengthening the townscape below. The high vantage point from which the overall composition appears to have been rendered does not actually exist but rather served as another devise to effectively create a majestic view of Amanohashidate. The brushwork here is extremely rough, making the painting look as if it had been done in a single, rushed sitting. It is this very quality, however, that gives this work its distinctive dynamism and strength.

Landscape
by Kano Motonobu
16th Century


Kano Motonobu was the eldest son of Kano Masanobu, the founder of the Kano school, and succeeded his father as the head of the school. He established three formulae–shin (formal), gyō (semi-formal), and sō (informal)–for the basic composition of a painting. He trained a large number of students and rendered it possible for many painters to create one work. He also expanded his repertoire to include genres such as handscrolls and paintings that depicted the customs of the day, and large works on goldleafed paper, which had formerly been the province of yamato-e painters. In doing so, he was responsible for the remarkable success of the Kano school.

This painting is an excellent example of Motonobu’s work and represents his development of a painting technique by which he could capture the true essence of things. This then led to the title of the painting, literally, “the true landscape.” The work is notable for its unfailingly firm composition and the use of thin brushstrokes to create a carefully refined expression.

Of the numerous landscape paintings he left, this piece, in particular, is notable. It is unquestionably the work of a professional painter. The Date family, the lords of the former Sendai fief, formerly
owned this painting.

Nine Section Silk Brocade, the first painting "Rural Cottages in Agrarian Landscape"
by Shen Zhou
15th Century

Shen Zhou (1427–1509), a representative literati painter from Suzhou, created this album of exquisitely colored portrait and landscape paintings during the Ming dynasty. The name for this album, “Nine-Section Silk Brocade,” (Ch. Jiuduanjin), derives from the album originally having contained nine paintings of different sizes.
The preface of Gao Shiji’s (1644–1703) catalogue for his collection, Record of Summer in a Village (Ch. Jiangcun xiaoxia lu, J. Kōson shōka roku), dated 1693 (Kangxi 32), contains an entry for this item. Nine prominent figures from the Yuan and Song dynasties were requested to create paintings in conscious imitation of earlier styles. Dong Qichang wrote an afterword, and the album was considered an extraordinary artistic accomplishment.

Of the original nine plates, only six survive, and of these, the first and sixth paintings, Rural Cottages in Agrarian Landscape (Ch. Tianjia gengzuo-tu) and Reeds on Shore and Gathering Water Chestnuts (Ch. Luting cailingtu), are particularly noted for the extraordinary execution of the miniature scenery. In the first painting, a lone man runs along a footpath in the early summer. The ink lines created by the tapering brush are soft and delicate.

Nine Section Silk Brocade, the sixth painting "Reeds on Shore and Gathering Water Chestnuts"
by Shen Zhou
15th Century

The second painting is based on a small landscape by Zhao Lingrang (n.d.). The water birds, however, have been replaced by serving women, painted in reds and blues, collecting water chestnuts from boats.The pale colors are effectively combined with the extremely pale green of the lotus leaves floating on the water surface. The topic of the poem was chosen by Shen Zhou’s teacher, Du Qiong (1396–1474), and dated 1471 (Chenghua 7).

Shen Zhou was known as Qinan, but he also went by Shitian and Baishiweng, and while he never advanced past government service, he pursued the three arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting, and came to be known as a leading figure of the Suzhou Wu school.
This album formerly belonged to the late Qing-dynasty bureaucrat Duanfang (1861–1911) and was brought to Japan in the Taishō period (1912–1926).

Sunset at Huawu 
by Yun Shouping
1671


This landscape is by Yun Shouping (1633–1690), one of the Six Great Painters from the early Qing dynasty. The soft sunrays of evening bathe the Jiangnan riverside; the scene being skillfully represented in pale tints in an impressionistic style. The second character, wu, of the painting’s title in Chinese, Huawu xiyang, means ‘embankment’, and is taken from one line of a poem by Yan Wei (713–?), a poet from the height of the Tang dynasty, that was sent to Liu Changqing: “Willows on the dike as the spring waters overflow, flowers on the bank in the lingering light of evening.”
Yun Shouping was from Jiangsu, Piling (Wujin, present-day Changzhou). He originally had the name Ge, then assumed the style Shouping. He had several aliases as well, such as Nantian and Baiyun Waishi. As he remained ideologically faithful to the former Ming dynasty, he experienced great difficulties in the new dynasty, nonetheless he persisted in adhering to an upright honesty.

This painting imitates a work by Huichong (?–1017), a painter-poet monk from the early Northern Song dynasty who was known for his small landscapes; the painting in question also having the same title. Tang Banyuan (alias Yuzhao, 1602–1672), an art critic, collector of paintings, and literatus, was from the same Wujin region as Yun Shouping. Yun Shouping and his friend, Wang Hui (1632–1717), would visit Banyuan on a regular basis, and he developed his talents there. Having established a deep friendship with Wang Hui, who excelled at landscape painting, Yun Shouping reputedly devoted himself to paintings of birds and flowers, as he was embarrassed to be seen as a lesser painter than Wang Hui. Nevertheless, with this landscape of pale tints, Yun Shouping’s natural talents as a colorist are amply present.

On a related note, Dan’an, who spoke highly of this painting, was a literatus also from this region. During the Shunzhi era (1644–1661), he was also known as Zhuang Jiongsheng (1627–1679) and as somebody who had passed the examination for the Ministry of Ceremonies. Luo Zhenyu (1866–1940), a retainer of the Qing court, fled China and brought this painting and others to Japan in 1912.

Sketch of Climbing Mount Kirishima (in Letter to Otome)
by Sakamoto Ryōma
1866


This sketch of Mount Kirishima comes from a letter written by Sakamoto Ryōma to his elder sister Otome in Tosa. In the first month of 1866 (Keiō 2), Ryōma had been instrumental in bringing about the treaty between the antigovernment Satsuma and Chōshū factions, signed in Kyoto. Before dawn on the morning of the twenty-fourth day of that same month, however, he had been injured in an attack by Tokugawa government agents at the boarding house in which he was staying—the Teradaya in the Fushimi section of southern Kyoto. Having narrowly escaped the raid, the injured Ryōma heeded the advice of Saigō Takamori (1828–1877) of the Satsuma clan and traveled south to Kagoshima for respite. At the end of the third month of that year, having recovered his health in the hot springs at the foot of Mount Kirishima, Ryōma decided to climb the 1574-meter peak with his wife Oryō.

This illustrated letter describes their ascent with their route up the mountain shown in red ink and other details in black ink. One notation describes how the mountain trail was so treacherous that Ryōma had to “hold [Oryō’s] hand and pull her along”—a delightful and unusually intimate detail. He also describes seeing the sacred spear (amanosaka hoko) protruding from the mountain’s peak. Ryōma and Oryō’s trip to Kagoshima is today viewed as Japan’s first honeymoon trip.

This lively letter detailing the journey reveals a fascinating human side of this distinguished historical figure. The letter to Otome is only one of a large number of archival documents and objects pertaining to Sakamoto Ryōma in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum.

Song-Style Landscape
by Qi Baishi
1922


This landscape is by Qi Baishi (1864–1957), one of modern China’s representative painters. Baishi is primarily known for his small works of flowering plants and insects in pale colors that subscribe to a freehand style known as xieyi (literally “copied feelings”), in which the painter attempts to portray the sentiments and spirit of the subject. In these works, the brush is commonly loaded with ink or water colors. This landscape, however, is a rare example of his large paintings.
Qi Baishi’s name was Huang; however, he is primarily known by his alias of Baishi. Originally from Xiangtan in Hunan province, he studied painting while working as a carpenter or doing cabinetwork and joinery. Beginning in 1902 (Guangxu 28), he traveled five times over a sevenyear period to Shanxi, Jiangxi, Guangdong, and Guangxi, after which he moved to Beijing, where he remained. Appreciation for Baishi’s paintings developed through the efforts of his friend, Chen Shizeng (1876–1923), who also encouraged him prajñāpāramitāto change his painting style.

This work was executed just as his reputation as a painter was beginning to grow and is based on his memories of one of China’s famous landscapes, Guilin in Guangxi, a spot he had visited. The remarkable sight of layers of pillarlike mountain peaks has been realized through even brushstrokes that do not vary in color gradation or thickness and that build up into a large composition. The same year, Qi Baishi painted Village Houses near the Bei River (Suma Collection, Kyoto National Museum). At this time, Baishi was focusing on attempts to utilize the landscape methods of the Song painters in his own works. This painting, however, is not in imitation of a specific painter and should rather be seen as an original creation that reinterprets the traits of Song-dynasty painting in a modern style.

The Japanese diplomat Suma Yakichirō (1892–1970), who was personally acquainted with Baishi, acquired the work for his collection. According to Suma’s notes on Qi Baishi, the artist told Suma that this work had required more strength than any other work he had produced.

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