Fluid brushwork and rhythmically repeating forms characterize this imaginary Chinese landscape of mountains, a river bridged by a narrow strip of land, and lively human activity. A cluster of buildings clings to sharply rising cliffs, a forest behind them is shrouded in mist. Passenger boats glide by, travelers—one on a donkey, the others on foot—proceed from the foreground to the steep mountain path. Sesson, one of the great masters of sixteenth-century ink painting, produced varied tones of ink from rich black to pale grey which combine with diagonal brushstrokes to create the texture of rocks and crags and emphasize the peculiar concave shapes at the base of the cliffs.
The painting bears the artist’s signature, and the “Shūkei” seal that he used on his late works.
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Title:Landscape with Rocky Precipice
Artist:Sesson Shūkei (ca. 1504–ca. 1589)
Period:Muromachi period (1392–1573)
Medium:Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image: 11 7/8 × 18 3/8 in. (30.2 × 46.7 cm) Overall with mounting: 44 in. × 22 5/8 in. (111.8 × 57.4 cm) Overall with knobs: 44 × 24 1/2 in. (111.8 × 62.3 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Unlike his Landscape with Pavilion and the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (cat. nos. 67, 69), Sesson's Landscape with Rocky Precipice exhibits a stylistic idiosyncrasy typical of the artist's later works. A strip of land in the right foreground is connected by a land bridge to a cluster of steeply rising cliffs. At the far end of the bridge the path shifts abruptly to the right, leading upward to a building complex—perhaps country inns—on the cliffs. Mountains gently touched by mist rise directly behind, and a fishing village lies nestled on the shore. The scene is busy with human activity: a traveler on a donkey, people crossing the bridge engaging in lively conversation, passenger boats bobbing on the river.
Sesson was able to produce an unusually rich tonal variation of ink, from glistening black to off-white, by using gofun (ground seashells) as sizing for the paper. The free, individualized brushstrokes create a sense of buoyancy. Lines turn at sharp angles, abruptly break off, then start again. The light ink applied to the surface of the rocks and cliffs in rhythmic, repetitive diagonals enhances their massiveness and height, and heavy black lines create strange concavities at the eroded base. It is this idiosyncratic facture, which lends to the work a jangled, eccentric effect that becomes characteristic in Sesson's late phase.
The painting is signed, an indication that it was done in the 1560s or later. And it bears only one seal, which reads "Shūkei." Sesson employed this seal on many of his late works, but when he was in his seventies and eighties he used it in combination with other seals. The presence of the single seal together with the style of the painting would date the work to the artist's middle period, when he was in his sixties.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of dreams]
 Hayashi Susumu 1984, p. 68.
Signature: Kei Sesson
Marking: Seal: Shukei
[ Mayuyama & Co., Ltd. Tokyo, 1969; sold to Burke]; Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (1969–2015; 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.
Tokyo National Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," May 21, 1985–June 30, 1985.
Nagoya City Art Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," August 17, 1985–September 23, 1985.
Atami. MOA Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," September 29, 1985–October 27, 1985.
Hamamatsu City Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," November 12, 1985–December 1, 1985.
New York. Asia Society. "Art of Japan: Selections from the Burke Collection, pts. I and II," October 2, 1986–February 22, 1987.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Die Kunst des Alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," September 16, 1990–November 18, 1990.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sesson Ink Paintings," February 1, 1993–June 1993.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
Chiba City Museum of Art. "Sesson ten: sengoku jidai no sūpā ekisentorikku," January 26, 2002–March 3, 2002.
Tokyo. The Shoto Museum of Art. "Sesson ten: sengoku jidai no sūpā ekisentorikku," April 2, 2002–May 12, 2002.
Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art. "Sesson ten: sengoku jidai no sūpā ekisentorikku," June 18, 2002–July 28, 2002.
Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art. "Sesson ten: sengoku jidai no sūpā ekisentorikku," August 10, 2002–September 23, 2002.
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.
University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts. "Sesson Shukei," March 28, 2017–May 21, 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. 45.
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, , pp. 88–89, cat. no. 110.
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