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Sesshu

Updated on September 14, 2015

Sesshu (1420-1506), was the greatest Japanese master of ink painting. He studied under the landscape painter Shubun and was deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism. Like his colleagues he painted mainly Chinese landscapes in the Chinese manner, but during a stay in China he evolved an individual mode of expression based on direct observation of the scenery.

Sesshu's work is characterized by a love of nature that seems to be conveyed with a directness guided by intuitive understanding, This quality of capturing the inner essence of a subject is apparent in his paintings in two styles.

The shin style is dominated by a vigorous, angular, and rather complex line and has strong contrasts of light and dark. Examples are the Longer Landscape Scroll (Morl Collection, Yamaguchi prefecture), which depicts the changing seasons, and the Winter Landscape (Tokyo National Museum).

Exemplifying the explosive, very simplified haboku style is the much different landscape that Sesshu painted for his pupil Soen (Tokyo National Museum), in which dark ink is splashed over lighter ink that is still wet.

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