Important Cultural Property
By Sesshū Tōyō
4 hanging scrolls
Ink and light color on silk
Muromachi period/15th century
Tokyo National Museum
This set of paintings is painted by Sesshū when he was in China. It is an exceptionally large Shiki Sansui (landscapes of the four seasons) painted on silk, with a composition that is dynamic, but firmly structured and stable. Its size, material, motifs, and style are each explicitly Chinese. Besides, each scroll has the signature phrase "Nihon Zenjin Toyo" (Japanese Zen person Toyo), the seal with "Toyo" in white letters, and the collector's seals that reads Kotakuō Chingan no Shō (Jp) (mark of appreciation by king Kotaku). Because of his deliberate use of the word Nihon in the signature-phrase, and the fact that Kotakuō was one of the titles given to the royal family of the Ming dynasty, it appears that Sesshū created these paintings while in China and tried to imitate the Ming style of painting. The way the rocks are painted is similar to Seppa (Ch: Zhe school, a group of painters in the Ming period), so probably Sesshū was trying to approach the painting style of Ba En (Ch: Ma Yuan) and Ka Kei (Ch: Xia Guei) which was revived by Seppa and popular in China then.
We can see that the landscapes of the four seasons were an important repertoire for Sesshū from the fact that there were other landscapes of the four seasons (fan-shaped) imitating Ka Kei, there is an existing version of the same theme formerly owned by the Kuroda family (Ishibashi Museum of Art: Asian Gallery, Ishibashi Foundation), and that there is Genryu Shuko's praise on Sesshū's landscapes of the four seasons "Shikeizu Ikkeiippuku Youchikyakuhitsu" (jp) (the scrolls of the four landscapes / one landscape for one scroll / painted by Sesshū, from Hantō Bunshū), written in Entoku 1 (1489) . However, in the history of painting in the Muromachi period, and in the context of Sesshū's painting career after he returned, it is evident that these pieces are isolated with regard to the painting style. In other words, the Chinese taste is explicit.
The images of the person on a donkey and the attendant at the bottom left of the spring landscape resemble those painted in the landscape (Kyoto National Museum) by Sessō Toyo, the name that is regarded as used by Sesshū before he began using "Sesshū." Thus, we can also see a link between Sesshū in the Sessō phase and him in the Sesshū phase in this work.