At the end of summer, the leaves of a grapevine have withered, its fruits have ripened, and a solitary cicada clings to the vine. This scroll was originally paired with a painting now in the collection of the Kyoto temple Honpōji that features a grasshopper, vibrant leaves, and darker fruits of a plant at peak ripeness. Grapevines, with their abundant, long-lasting fruit, are traditionally associated with fecundity and perpetuity.
Little is known about the artist Guan but it appears that he was a Zen monk of relatively minor status. In this lyrical composition, his graceful, controlled handling of the brush and sharp eye for details in nature suggest that he was well trained in the art of monochrome ink painting.
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Title:Cicada on a Grapevine
Artist:Bokurin Guan (Japanese, active late 14th century)
Period:Muromachi period (1392–1573)
Date:late 14th century
Medium:Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 25 1/4 × 12 1/8 in. (64.2 × 30.8 cm) Overall with mounting: 57 5/16 × 15 1/2 in. (145.5 × 39.3 cm) Overall with knobs: 57 5/16 × 17 5/16 in. (145.5 × 44 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
It is the end of summer. The leaves of the grapevine have withered, fruits are ripe, and a solitary cicada clings to the vine. In this exquisite depiction of a small corner of the natural world, the artist has lovingly captured one of the familiar sights of seasonal change in soft, watery ink. Subtle gradations of wash define both front and back of the lacy, tattered leaves, while curving, hooked lines delineate vines and tendrils. The small globular fruits, delicately outlined with soft gray strokes, barely intrude upon our vision. The darkest ink is reserved for the lone insect, and the finest, thread-thin lines for its gossamer wings.
Many ink paintings of common vegetables and fruits—turnips, cabbages, persimmons, chestnuts—are associated with famous Zen monk-artists. These staples in the vegetarian diet of Buddhist communities were latecomers in the artistic repertory of ink-monochrome painters. Their depiction was perhaps an expression of the Zen belief that all phenomena, however mundane, possess an element of Buddhanature and have the potential for enlightenment.
The paintings of grapes most familiar in the Muromachi period were the vigorous examples associated with the thirteenth-century Chinese master Riguan (fl. ca. 1230), who treated the subject as a vehicle for bravura displays of brush technique. Riguan's work doubtless inspired early Japanese practitioners of the genre, such as Gukei Yūe (fl. mid-14th century), whose paintings usually feature a horizontal arrangement of vine stems, and Bokurin Guan, the painter of the Burke scroll. Guan's vertical compositions, with their more naturalistic details, may indicate a familiarity with either Korean or Chinese grape paintings, perhaps those associated with the Yuan master Ren Renfa (1255–1328) and those of the Ming-dynasty painter Wang Liangzhen (fl. 15th century), who is today known only through one composition now in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., a painting of grapevines briskly swaying in the wind. Guan's depiction may be placed somewhere between these two Chinese representations.
Guan's Cicada on a Grapevine, which shows nature in a state of near-frozen stillness, is the companion piece to a painting at Honpōji, Kyoto (fig. 34), in which swaying vines convey a lively sense of movement. The Honpōji scroll, which would have been placed at the left, suggests the summer season, with a grasshopper, fresher leaves, and darker fruits of a plant at its peak of ripeness. The artist displays an exquisite control of the brush, a keen eye for the most minute details of nature, and a representational ability that is infused with poetry. Who he was, however, remains something of a mystery. Two seals are impressed on each of the paintings. The smaller seal reads "Guan," and the larger, "Bokurin Guan." Listed in an Edo history of Japanese painting is a monk-artist named Guan Shichi (fl. late 15th century–early 16th century), who excelled in painting monkeys in the manner of the Southern Song artist Muqi (fl. late 13th–early 14th century). Examples are also given of his seal, "Guan," and of his signature, "Guan Shichi." This "Guan" seal, however, differs from the seals impressed on the scrolls in the Burke and Honpōji collections, and the name Shichi is not found on any known painting. That Bokurin Guan was a Zen monk can be deduced from the Zen-like names he chose for himself: Bokurin means "Ink Forest," and Guan, "Fool's Hut."
The use of two seals, one small and one much larger, recalls the practice of the monk-painter Kao Ninga, who lived in the mid-fourteenth century. It has been suggested that those artists whose activities were primarily confined to the temple may have used only one seal and a less official name (dōgō) on their paintings. Those who divided their activities between painting and clerical duties may have used two seals, comprising both the dōgō and the official name (hōki). While this theory is far from conclusive, it is persuasive. It may also be that the group who divided their activities received professional training as artists, and that Bokurin Guan belonged to this circle. His mastery of the ink medium far outstrips that of Tesshū and Bonpō (cat. nos. 44, 51), two of the most prominent figures in the Zen community of fourteenth-century Japan. Tesshū and Bonpō were both literati, for whom painting was pursued for personal pleasure or as an exercise in Zen training. The absence of documentation on Bokurin Guan may be the result of his relatively minor status in Zen circles. At present, the existence of a monk-artist who used the name Bokurin Guan is confirmed only by these two graceful depictions of grapevines. The marked naturalism and sophistication that characterize his work suggest a fifteenth-century date.
An inscription on the box containing the Burke scroll states that it once belonged to the late-Edo realist painter Watanabe Kazan (1793–1841).
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 For the symbolism of grapes, see Shimada Shūjirō 1993, pp. 136-11; Watsky 1994, pp. 145–49; and Tsang 1996, pp. 85–94.  Tokyo National Museum 1998, no. 149.  Toda Teisuke 1991, pl. 2.  Kano Einō 1985, p. 302.  Ibid., p. 485.  Yokota Tadashi 1976, pp. 33–40.
Marking: Seals: Guan, Bokurin Guan
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
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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. 92, cat. no. 115.
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