An early work by the great ink painter Sesshū?
For the haboku (‘broken ink’) style, the artist uses no outlines, but instead relies on areas of splashed ink wash and layers of ink shading to create the three-dimensional impression of mountains, trees, and rocks in a landscape. The technique involves a remarkable economy of brushwork, and it is because of this shorthand nature that it is described as haboku (broken ink) or hatsuboku (flung ink).
This work has affinities in its composition and technique with a landscape by Shūbun (flourished 1414–63), with an inscription by Kōsai Ryūha (1375–1446) (Private Collection, Tokyo). However, that work has a larger and more confident scale, a more coherent relationship of foreground to middle-ground and is stylistically more advanced.
There are stronger resemblances to a painting with a square seal reading ‘Sessō’ in the Masaki Art Gallery, Osaka Prefecture—in the shape of the trees and mountains, the very dark ink tones, and even the paper. The similarities are such that the two works appear to have been painted by the same artist. ‘Sessō Tōyō’ is now generally held to have been the name used by the greatest ink painter of the Muromachi period (1333–1568), Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506), during the first half of his career. before he went to China.
Although the seal here reads ‘Shūbun’, the surrounding paper is very rough and scratched, suggesting it has perhaps been tampered with. If this is indeed a painting by Sesshū, it represents a very significant example of this master’s early work.
I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan-2, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1993)