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COLLECTION HIGHLIGHTS

SESSHU

1420–1506?

Sesshu, a Muromachi period Buddhist priest and painter, was born in the province of Bitchu (today’s Okayama Prefecture). Some say that he was of the Fuji or Oda clans of Akahama (today’s Soja City). Another story is that he entered the temple of Hofukuji in childhood; the famous tale of his painting a mouse with his tears is associated with that temple. At any rate, he moved to Kyoto while still quite young, transferring from Tofukuji, one of the Gozan, the five Zen temples under the direct auspices of the shogunate, to Shokokuji, where became the disciple of Shunrin Shuto. While serving the temple as its official greeter of guests, he studied painting with Shubun, who was an official painter to the shogunate. In 1454, under the patronage of the Ouchi clan of Suo Province, he moved to Yamaguchi. It was 1467 when he traveled on an official vessel to Ming dynasty China, where he served as a record keeper; during that trip, he encountered Chinese paintings and painters in their natural environment. Returning to Japan in 1469, he stayed for a time in the Buzen Bungo area, working in an atelier called the Tenkai Togaro in Oita, then in Yamaguchi, far from the fray, until the Onin Wars ended in 1479. Peace restored, he visited places throughout Japan, including Iwami, Mino, and Suruga, returning to Yamaguchi again in about 1486. The many theories about when and where he died put his death as occurring in 1502 or 1506 in Masuda, Yoshii, or Yamaguchi.
SESSHU Landscape of the Four Seasons(Spring Landscape) Muromachi period, 15th century, Sumi and light color on silk
SESSHU
Landscape of the Four Seasons
(Spring Landscape)

Muromachi period, 15th century, Sumi and light color on silk
Important Cultural Property

As the eye shifts from the prominent peak at the center of these paintings, one discovers the four seasons, each in noble form: plum blossoms in spring, a refreshing waterfall in summer, vivid autumn foliage in fall, and the snow-covered mountain itself in winter. Examining the details and then the whole reveals the great variety of subject matter and palette in this set of four hanging scrolls, a lavish group of landscape paintings. Sesshu is known for his landscapes addressing the relationship between nature and humankind; in them he constructs a utopian space. Recent research has suggested models Sesshu may have used in creating these paintings: Ming dynasty Chinese painting Landscapes of the Four Seasons (Kyushu National Museum) and Rowing Home on a Mirror Lake, attributed to Yan Ciyu (National Palace Museum, Taipei). Those discoveries invite a rethinking of the context in which these paintings were created.
Asian antiques