Within a thatched cottage located on the bank of a mountain stream, a solitary gentleman sits with book in hand, perhaps pausing for a moment to enjoy the autumn colors decorating a number of the trees immediately outside. Several groves of trees then lead the eye back along the river to where it drops as a strong torrent from the looming peaks above. Many of the rock and mountain forms were outlined and textured with swift and spontaneous brushwork, with washes applied in strong gradations to create a dramatic light playing over all the natural forms. By such formal means as these the surface of the picture is activated, creating an air of tension that suggests the vitality of nature as well perhaps as the passive yet intense joy of the scholar as he works in tranquil seclusion.
Okano Sekiho was born in the Hisai area of Ise. Sekiho’s birth and death dates are not recorded in standard sources but extant paintings by the artist bear dates ranging between 1748 and 1759, giving a general indication of his period of activity. The 1767 edition of the Heian Jinbutsu Shi, “Who’s Who in Kyoto,” listed the artist as living in the Karasumaru district of Kyoto; his name was not included in the 1775 edition, suggesting that he had moved or had died by that date. Sekiho is also known to have written extensively on painting and painting theory. Although none of these texts seem to have survived, they are still noteworthy as being among the earliest writing in Japan on literati painting. The colophon on the present painting was written by Daiten Kenjo (1719-1801), a good friend of Ike Taiga (1723-1776) and other literati masters. Daiten was a monk in the Rinzai sect living at Shokoku-ji in Kyoto, a poet and Confucian scholar who thus had close relations with such artists as Sekiho and Taiga who were also inspired by imports from the continent.