A time-honored theme in East Asian painting and poetry, a wild goose or geese amid reeds conveys the solitary feel of late autumn. An early example of the scene appears in the celebrated Chinese painting theme of “Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers”; one of the views usually depicts a flock of geese descending toward a reedy marsh where the rivers converge.
Little is known about the painter Tōzen, but based on stylistic considerations and the shared character “Tō” in their names, he appears to have been a follower of Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506), and active in Kyushu for at least part of his career in the mid- to late sixteenth century. Some accounts say he was from Matsuura in Bizen Province, in Kyushu, and that later he was a Rinzai Zen monk affiliated with Tōfukuji Temple in Kyoto. A haboku (“splashed ink”) landscape in the Sesshū style in the Honolulu Museum of Art is signed “Hosetsu” and impressed with the same seal as that seen here. It is accompanied by an inscription in the distinctive handwriting of Tenryūji Zen monk Sakugen Shūryō (1501–1579), giving credence to the assumption that Hosetsu was active a generation or so after the death of Sesshū .