Scholar's retreat in a mountainous landscape

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    A lone figure of a scholar carrying a long staff is dwarfed by the large red gate through which he enters. The retreat is set on an outcropping of rock, and is truly isolated amidst an impossible landscape. Two high craggy peaks, ominous and unstable, tower either side of a waterfall that exists in a seemingly unlikely location. In contrast to the unsettling shapes, soothing pastel tones have been lightly applied to colour the scene.

    Sessai was daimyo of Nagashima domain, part of present-day Mie prefecture. He became a member of the literati circles as an artist and a poet, especially knowledgeable about Chinese paintings of the Ming and Qing dynasties and Chinese culture in general. He was a particularly close associate of Kimura Kenkadō (1736-1802), the Osaka patron, as well as the painters Sō Shiseki and Watanabe Gentai. Sessai is primarily regarded as a painter of the Shen Nanpin or Nagasaki school due to his many images of semi-formal flower and bird paintings [For example. Peacock in the Nagoya City Art Museum]. He seems to have had a dual personality when it came to painting, however, sometimes following this brightly coloured style of flower and bird painting, while at the same time creating serene images that show a subtle handling of colour, as in this fan. In addition, the Ashmolean fan stands out among known works by Sessai in that it is an idealised, fantastic landscape, whose purpose is not the same striving for realism that we see in his more common compositions of fish, birds, flowers or insects, which are based on the careful observation of nature.

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 16 on p. 76, p. 39, illus. pp. 76-77

Hillier, J., The Harari Collection of Japanese Paintings and Drawings, copyright owned by Michael Harari, 3 vols (London: Lund Humphries, 1973), no. 314 on p. 544, illus. p. 546 fig. 314

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