At far right, a stream fed by melting snow comes tumbling down out of the mountains, symbolizing the onset of spring. This foreground of waterfalls, bent trees, and rooftops suddenly gives way to an expanse of blank paper—a diagonal swath of mist that parts to reveal distant summer mountains. A flock of geese and the large moon are the only indications of autumn in the left screen (not exhibited), which is dominated by icy mountains and a snow-covered village.
A grandson of the great Momoyama painter Kano Eitoku (1543–1590), Kano Tan’yū had, by the time he was a teenager, already become official painter to the second Tokugawa shogun Hidetada (1579– 1632; reigned 1605–1623). This pair of screens is dated on stylistic grounds to the 1630s, when Tan’yū was head of the Kano school’s Kajibashi atelier in Edo, which Tan’yū himself had established in 1621.
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Title:Landscapes of the Four Seasons
Artist:Kano Tan'yū (Japanese, 1602–1674)
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Medium:Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image (each): 60 3/8 in. × 11 ft. 6 7/8 in. (153.4 × 352.7 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:2015.300.77.1, .2
Kano Tan'yū (1602–1674) is a pivotal figure in the history of Japanese painting. His domination of the art world extended beyond his lifetime to the close of the Edo period, perpetuated by the patronage system that he helped to create. Enormously talented, politically savvy, and born when the center of shogunal power was shifting to Edo, Tan’yū learned at an early age to take full advantage of any opportunities that came his way.
A grandson of Kano Eitoku (1543–1590), the great master of Momoyama painting, Tan’yū began to paint when he was quite young; one work executed when he was eleven is still extant. Stories of his precocity abound. When he was only ten his father, Takanobu (1571–1618), the second son of Eitoku, took him to Edo for an audience with the shogun Tokugawa Hidetada (r. 1605–23), and on the way Tan’yū was interviewed by none other than Tokugawa Ieyasu (r. 1603–5), the founder of the shogunate. Two years later, the boy demonstrated his painting skill in front of Hidetada, who praised him as "Eitoku Reincarnate."
In 1617, the fifteen-year-old Tan’yū was appointed official painter to the shogun, and not long thereafter established the power base of the Kano school in the new city of Edo. Tan’yū’s astute political moves helped to assure the family's fortunes for the next two hundred fifty years. In 1621, he was granted a large tract of land for a house and studio, just outside the Kajibashi gate of Edo Castle, paving the way for his younger brothers Naonobu (1607–1650) and Yasunobu (1613–1685) to receive the same honor. The three brothers eventually established the bakufu’s stable of painters, drawn from Tan’yū’s Kajibashi Kano studio and from Naonobu and Yasunobu's Kobikichō and Nakabashi studios, respectively. Thus, in addition to training students and serving as advisers to the shogunal collections, they also monopolized shogunal commissions. The positions they held were part of the hierarchical system established at this time, one that endured for the entire Edo period. The brothers were oku eshi (Painters of the Inner Court), a hereditary title, and, like samurai, they were allowed to wear swords. Lesser clan members and prominent pupils filled the ranks of the omote eshi (Painters of the Outer Court). The third rank of Kano artists, those employed by the daimyos, or feudal lords, were known as kakae eshi (Painters for Hire). Given the inflexibility and exclusivity of the system, it is no wonder that many artists railed against it, and during the eighteenth century other schools were established. Criticism of the Kano school—and of Tan’yū in particular—focused on its reliance on traditional models and its distrust of originality and individualism.
A large number of paintings by Tan’yū have survived, and we can date many of those he produced as screens to decorate important monuments in Edo and Kyoto (often in collaboration with other members of the school). It is customary to divide the artist's career into three phases. The first extends from his late teens through the period during which he used the youthful name "Uneme" in both his signature and his seal. It is not known exactly how long he continued to use this name, but he may have done so until about 1635, when he adopted the name "Tan’yūsai." The paintings from this second phase are often referred to as saigaki (studio cited). Signatures on most of the paintings produced in the third phase include the title hōgen (eye of the law), granted in 1638, or hōin (seal of the law), which he received in 1665. In this final phase, and especially after he turned sixty, Tan’yū often included his age in his signatures; works signed in this manner are generally known as gyōnengaki (age cited).
Both Burke screens bear "Uneme" seals and signatures, and thus belong to Tan’yū’s youthful period, from which merely a few examples survive. The landscapes convey many hints of seasonal change: on the right screen, the cascading water and melting snow in the foreground, with hazy summer mountains in the distance; on the left screen, the geese in flight and a full moon—signs of autumn—and snow-covered scenery. The formula for screen compositions of the four seasons, which was firmly established in the Muromachi period, is simplified and transformed in Tan’yū’s work. The composition of the right screen, which by tradition ought to have featured tall mountains at the extreme right, has been opened up; apart from the waterfall, only a few trees and partial views of houses define the low, modestly scaled foreground. There, without moving through a middle ground, the scene suddenly shifts to distant mountains and water, gently defined in soft ink wash.
The Edo-period critic and nanga artist Nakabayashi Chikutō (1776–1853) complained in his Chikutō garon (Chikutō 's Treatise on Painting) that Tan’yū’s paintings lacked visual rationality because the pictorial elements were abbreviated in too drastic a manner. In our own time, Kihara Toshie has offered an opposing interpretation of Tan’yū’s rejection of the traditional formula, arguing that in fact unfilled space is of greater significance in his landscapes than in Muromachi works. Indeed, as can be seen in the screen at the right, empty space actually invades the filled areas, blurring firm demarcations. This disregard for rational structure in landscape became even more pronounced in the Nagoya Castle paintings of 1634, and evolved into the minimalism of the sliding-door panels at Shōjū Raigōji of 1643, in which unfilled space dominates, allowing only glimpses of mountains, houses, and trees to emerge, as from a dense fog.
While exhibiting the first signs of Tan’yū’s dissolution of rational space, the Burke screens still adhere to traditional formulas governing composition and brushwork. This is particularly evident in the left screen, in the area of the snow-covered mountains and in the strong brushlines in the foreground. The so-called Sesshū elements detected by many critics also make their appearance here: the dark surface textures of the rocks, the strong outlines of the pine tree at the right, and the solidly constructed buildings.
Given these stylistic features, the Burke screens may be dated to the 1630s, the final years of Tan’yū’s "Uneme" period, shortly before he became involved in the Nagoya Castle project. They are major works, reflecting an early yet transitional stage in the development of his mature landscape style.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Takeda Tsuneo and Matsunaga Goichi 1994, pl. 7.  Yasumura Toshinobu 1978, pp. 17–36.  These include commissions for Nijō Castle in Kyoto (1626), Nagoya Castle (1634), the Tōshōgū Mausoleum at Nikkō (1636), and the Kyoto temples of Daitōkuji (1641, 1669), Shōjū Raigōji (1643), Shūōn'an (1650), Myōshinji (1654), and Nishi Honganji (1657).  See Sakazaki Shizuka 1917, p. 148.  Kihara Toshie 1995, pp. 95–115.
Signature: Kano Uneme no sho Morinobu hitsu; Kano Uneme no sho Morinobu kore o egaku
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 121, cat. no. 146.
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