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Anonymous (16th century), Korean [1]


Hanging scroll, ink on paper
86 x 28 cm. (3 7/8 x 11 in.)


In the foreground a traveller holds an umbrella for protection against a strong wind blowing rightward, striving to make his way to the house that appears amongst the trees to the left. Several skiffs are moored across the river, just in front of other houses, and a waterfall drops from the mountains above. The rock and mountain forms are characterized by active, somewhat jagged linear contours while their substance is indicated by ink wash that varies strongly from light to dark so as to give some semblance of three-dimensionality. The basic artistic approach seen here was clearly based on that of the great Northern Sung master Kuo Hsi ( 郭熙 ) (fig. 1), some of whose paintings feature very active contour lines as well as strong contrasts of light and dark. This style was transmitted down to the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), when it was picked up by Korean visitors and had great further influence on Koryo period painting.The style of the present painting is related to that of the “Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers,” a Korean pair of screens imported to Japan in 1539 and now housed in the Daiganji Temple,[2] and to a set of eight hanging scrolls (originally mounted as an eight-fold screen) on the same theme housed in the Jinju National Museum in Korea.[3]

The seal appearing on the painting, reading Bunsei, refers to a Japanese monk of the mid-15th century associated with the Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto. Bunsei is known to have worked in the style of Shubun (ca. 1414-63), who in 1423 or 1424 was a member of an official trip to Korea as member of the shogun’s embassy, so in this way Bunsei seems to have become associated with an early Korean style of painting. According to Richard Stanley-Baker, during the Edo period it became common for a seal reading “Bunsei” to be affixed to many of these early paintings done in Korean style to increase their value.[4] The present work thus joins a distinguished group of 15th-16th century Korean paintings, many exhibiting stylistic traits quite similar to the present example.


1. For a discussion of the dating and provenance of this painting, see the essay by Kazuko Kameda-Madar in this issue of the Journal.

2. See Maromitsu Tsukamoto: Suiko naru sansui: Chugoku, Chosen, Rikakukei sansuiga no keifu, Yamato Bunkakan, 2008.

3. Bought by a Korean collector in Japan, the paintings were returned to Korea in 2001; see Dong-a Ilbo 東亞日報 , Sep. 11, 2001, and Masa’aki Itakura: “Toji kyuzo ‘Sansui byobu’ ga shimesu ’To’no Iso,” Koza Nihonbijutsushi, University of Tokyo Press, 2005.

4. Richard Stanley-Baker: “Bunsei saiko: kotonaru jinbutsu, kotonaru kokuseki”, Kokka, vol. 1232, 1998.

Fig. 1. Kuo Hsi, attributed: “Lofty Recluses in Mountain Abodes,” after Ku-kung Shu-hua T’u-lu, Taipei, 1989, vol. 1, p. 219.

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