It is near the end of autumn and three geese have alighted on a sandbank, indicated only by faint washy brushstrokes, with drier, darker strokes delineating withered reeds at the water’s edge. One goose is at rest while the others crane their necks to call at the sky, perhaps signaling to others in their flock who have begun their journey south. Introduced from China in the 1200s, the subject of geese and reeds was popular among Zen artist-monks, as it alluded not only to the seasonal change from late autumn to early winter, but also to the passage of time and the rhythms of life.
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Title:Geese and Reeds
Period:Muromachi period (1392–1573)
Date:late 14th century
Medium:Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 19 5/8 × 11 7/16 in. (49.8 × 29 cm) Overall with mounting: 50 7/8 × 15 15/16 in. (129.3 × 40.5 cm) Overall with knobs: 50 7/8 × 17 7/8 in. (129.3 × 45.4 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Paintings of geese and reeds allude not only to the seasonal change from late autumn to early winter, when water reeds reach the end of their growing season and geese fly south, but also to the passage of time on a larger scale, from the past to the future. The theme of geese and reeds in painting is believed to have originated in South China, in the provinces of Zhejiang and Hunan, an area of lakes and rivers where waterbirds have long been a favorite subject for painting. Legend has it that the Indian monk Bodhidharma, sailed down the Yangzi River on a pair of reeds to spread Chan Buddhism in China, and perhaps for this reason paintings of reeds, together with the geese that inhabited them, were regarded as essential decoration in Chan temples. Early Chinese representations of the theme were executed in polychrome, but beginning in the eleventh century such scenes were increasingly depicted in ink monochrome.
A catalogue of the Hōjō family collection of Chinese treasures indicates that Chinese paintings of geese and reeds had reached Japan by the early fourteenth century, and about the same time the theme was introduced into the repertory of Japanese painting in the form of monochrome-ink decoration on screens represented in Buddhist paintings and handscrolls. Shortly thereafter, Tesshū Tokusai (cat. no. 44) painted the first known Japanese renditions of this subject in ink monochrome.
In the present painting, three geese are seen sheltering among stalks of reeds near the edge of a lake. One has tucked its head into its feathers for warmth, while the other two crane their long necks, beaks open, as though attracted by some movement in the sky. The unknown artist displays a highly sophisticated understanding of the genre. The soft, watery brushstrokes that define the plumage, the bank of the lake, and the rocks are executed with a confidence that imparts a tactile impression of moist earth and feather down. The reeds are drawn in dry, sketchy lines to emphasize their brittle fragility. It has been suggested that the scroll may originally have had greater height and may have included an inscription. In keeping with the practice popular at the time, it may also have been paired with another scroll, which would have depicted the geese in flight, bringing the seasonal cycle to completion.
The scene is painted on a paper that is imprinted in the upper right corner with a graceful bouquet of lotus flowers and orchids. The wax-based technique used to create the design was popular in China during the Song and Yuan dynasties (960–1368), and paper decorated in this manner has always been considered Chinese. Because of its greater technical virtuosity when compared with other early ink paintings, such as Wagtail on a Rock (cat. no 43), the Burke scroll was once considered Chinese. In the last twenty-five years, however, many works of the early Muromachi period have been uncovered, enabling a better understanding of the ink monochrome of this period and the reattribution of a number of works to Japan. A Japanese painting in the Gunma Museum of Modern Art, Takasaki, one of a pair, bears a very close compositional similarity to the present work. Both paintings of the pair include colophons by Yishan Yining, a Chinese Chan Buddhist monk who died in Japan in 1317. The paintings in the Burke and Nakamura collections may have been based on a common model, possibly Chinese. A highly refined and technically advanced work, the Burke scroll may be dated to the late fourteenth century.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 See Y. Shimizu and Wheelwright 1976, no. 29, for a discussion of the theme and its history in China.  They are listed in the Butsunichian kumotsu mokuroku; see Kamakura-shi Shi Hensan Iinkai 1956.  Y. Shimizu and Wheelwright 1976, p. 218.  Eto Shun 1969a, p. 84; and Murase 1975, no. 25.  Ebine Toshio 1994, pl. 41. This pair is also painted on imported Chinese paper.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," November 7, 1975–January 4, 1976.
Seattle Art Museum. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," March 10–May 1, 1977.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," June 1–July 17, 1977.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japanese Ink Paintings from the Collection of Mary and Jackson Burke," February 15–June 25, 1989.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, cat. no. 35.
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. 91, cat. no. 114.
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