Anonymous, Hasegawa school (17th century) Rocks and Waves
Large two-panel folding screen, ink and gold on paper; featuring a pair of rocks partialy hidden by cresting waves and billowing gold clouds 67 x 57 1/4in (170 x 145.6cm)
Provenance: Purchased Yamanaka and Co., Kyoto, 1966 as a work by Hasegawa Tohaku
This screen of waves breaking against a rocky shore has a close affinity with the set of twelve sliding-door panels executed by Hasegawa Tohoku in the late 16th century for the abbot's quarters at Zenrinji and a pair of six-panel screens now in a private collection (Nakajima, Hasegawa Tohaku, pl. 51). A deceptively simple depiction of surging waves vying with adamantine rocks silhouetted against flat planes of gold-hued clouds, these works can be viewed as a brilliant fusion of yamato-e, Japanese-style works originating in the court circles during the Heian period (794-1185), and kanga, literally 'Chinese painting', based on Chinese works imported into Japan during the Kamakura (1186-1333) and Muromachi (1333-1573) periods.
In his treatise on painting Tohaku gasetsu, the artist stated that he once painted a pair of screens after a composition of waves by Wang Wei (699-759). Assuredly based on later Chinese copies of this Tang dynasty artist, Tohaku would have access to Chinese paintings, both original and later Ming dynasty copies, through his association with cultivated Sakai merchants, various tea masters, high-ranking priests and his association with the Toyotomi family. Able to view treasured Chinese works of art in temples and private collections, Tohaku seems to have gradually developed a fascination with ink painting upon his exposure to the works of Song dynasty masters such as Muqi, Yujian, Ma Yuan and Xia Gui.
Later in his life Tohaku even represented himself in the stylistic lineage of Sesshu ( 1420-1506) who went to China where he was introduced to works of the Zhe school, one of the Ming dynasty Chinese painting ateliers associated with the professional tradition of painting as represented by the works of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui. Sesshu's influence on the later works of Tohaku is evident in his works' strong compositional balance, subordination of scenic elements and rejection of color in favor of ink monochrome.
The glimpse of a panoramic seascape provided by the Zenrinji fusuma is also regarded by some scholars as a meisho-e of Awa Naruto (Straits of Awa), which would place it securely in the tradition of yamato-e. The reduction of motifs necessary for identification is akin to 'allusive variation' (honkadori), a complex rhetorical technique which added emotional depth or atmosphere through alluding to earlier examples, all of which would be recognized by the cognoscenti. The yamato-e esthetic is captured in the agreeable balance between representation and an abstract decorative quality engendered by the large expanses of gold-foil.
A work of the Hasegawa atelier, the depiction of rocks in this two-panel screen of seething ocean waves retains some of the dynamic angularity found in the Zenrinji fusuma, but with a softer touch more consistent with the use of texture strokes associated with the Sesshu-inspired Unkoku school. As characterized by Carolyn Wheelwright, the rocks in the Zenrinji fusuma are 'carved away' by assertive brushwork, while those in this two-panel screen are 'built up' of clusters of texture strokes. Slightly less overcharged in its brushwork, this work presents a masterful fusion of monochrome ink tones defining the raging sea and the calm expanse of brilliant gold leaf mist and clouds.
Further discussion of Tohaku's paintings in the Zenrinji can be found in an excellent article in Ars Orientalis, "Tōhaku's Black and Gold" by Carolyn Wheelwright (vol. 16 (1986), pp. 1-31). Other sources of information on the life and work of this artist and his atelier are Hasegawa Tōhaku: botsugo 400-nen, edited by Tokyo National Museum and Kyoto National Museum (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha, 2010), Hasegawa Tohaku by Nakajima Junji (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1979), and Hasegawa Tohaku by Kuroda Taizo (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1997)
Please note that the mate to this screen is in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas.
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