Set of four hanging scrolls; ink and color on silk
Image (a): 40 3/8 × 13 7/8 in. (102.6 × 35.2 cm)
Overall with mounting (a): 75 1/16 × 19 3/4 in. (190.7 × 50.1 cm)
Overall with knobs (a): 75 1/16 × 21 5/8 in. (190.7 × 55 cm)
Image (b): 40 3/8 × 13 7/8 in. (102.6 × 35.3 cm)
Overall with mounting (b): 75 1/4 × 19 11/16 in. (191.2 × 50 cm)
Overall with knobs (b): 75 1/4 × 21 11/16 in. (191.2 × 55.1 cm)
Image (c): 40 7/16 × 13 7/8 in. (102.7 × 35.3 cm)
Overall with mounting (c): 75 1/16 × 19 3/4 in. (190.6 × 50.1 cm)
Overall with knobs (c): 75 1/16 × 21 3/4 in. (190.6 × 55.3 cm)
Image (d): 40 1/2 × 13 15/16 in. (102.8 × 35.4 cm)
Overall with mounting (d): 75 3/8 × 19 11/16 in. (191.5 × 50 cm)
Overall with knobs (d): 75 3/8 × 21 11/16 in. (191.5 × 55.1 cm)
Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Not on view
These sensitively rendered ink paintings transcend conventional literati imagery of Chinese‑style seasonal landscapes to create an expression of a more individual, moody statement of the artist in nature. One may read the lone figure in each scroll as a representation of the artist himself presented in the mode of a Chinese sage; the artist did actually play the traverse flute, the instrument of the boatman in the autumn scene. All four of the scrolls in this set are integrated not only by connecting seasonal moods but also by a unifying elevated point of view. Baiitsu is best known for his meticulous and unfailingly elegant polychrome bird-and-flower paintings, perhaps learned while studying as a youth under the Shijō-school painter Chō Gesshō (1770–1832). This set of paintings reveals a relatively unstudied dimension of Baiitsu’s work.
Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856), who is best known for his elegant polychrome paintings in the bird-and-flower genre, was born to a carver's family in Nagoya, a city between Edo and Kyoto. The painting teacher of young Baiitsu is believed to have been Chō Gesshō (1770–1832), a minor artist of the realist Shijō school. Yamamoto Rantei, a now almost forgotten Kano-school artist, might also have given Baiitsu instruction, as well as the use of his family name. While Baiitsu was still in his teens, he met Nakabayashi Chikutō (1776–1853), a painter from his hometown, and in 1802 they left Nagoya together for Kyoto to pursue their studies. Always in search of new ideas, new models for painting, and new friends, Baiitsu traveled continually throughout the Kyoto-Osaka area, painting, composing poetry, and playing the flute-leading a life that followed the ideals of the Chinese literati. In about 1815, the sphere of his travels widened to include Edo, where he met many other like-minded literati. His peripatetic life continued until about 1854, when he returned to Nagoya. He remained there until his death two years later.
Each of these four hanging scrolls depicting the four seasons of the year is signed and impressed with a seal. The first one (Spring) gives the date as "the Year of the Dog," the first month of spring," which corresponds to January 1848. The last scroll (Winter) identifies the place where Baiitsu painted the set as the Studio of Jade Contemplation.
Each painting depicts the solitary figure of a scholar, except for Summer, in which two gentlemen and a servant are shown. All the men are engaged in quiet contemplation or in music-making. The flute player under the full autumn moon—indeed, any of the figures in these scrolls—may surely be understood as a self-portrait.
The scrolls are a virtuoso display of brush techniques. Dark, wet, and unusually short strokes are employed to convey the feel of lush vegetation in the warm spring and summer seasons, and dark inks combined with pale, soft washes fade into the shimmering, unpainted silk, evoking a vaporous mist. The Autumn scroll has a greater sense of open space, and the trees have shed their leaves. Deftly brushed reeds accent the otherwise muted scene. In Winter, broken strokes in light ink mark the distant hills, and traces of the dry brush cover the entire landscape. The barren, flat-topped peaks recall the landscape paintings of Chikutō. A scholar contemplates the frozen world.
The Burke scrolls represent Baiitsu, sixty-five years of age, at the pinnacle of his technical and expressive powers.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 On Baiitsu's life, sec Graham 1983, pp. 21–79.