In medieval Zen monasteries, it was not uncommon to find a religious artwork flanked by a pair of hanging scrolls depicting seemingly secular subjects such as landscapes or birds and flowers. Painters used a variety of compositional strategies to ensure that these diptychs would complement a central icon of a buddha, bodhisattva, or important Zen patriarch. In this pair of landscapes, for example, Keison positioned the profusion of mountains, trees, and architectural motifs at the outside edges of each picture so that they could frame a central figure.
Although Keison was a professional artist, active in eastern Japan in the vicinity of Kamakura, he modeled most of his works after those of a celebrated monk-painter, Kenkō Shōkei (active ca. 1478–ca. 1523).
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scrolls a (right) and b (left)
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Title:Landscapes of the Four Seasons
Artist:Keison (Japanese, active mid-16th century)
Period:Muromachi period (1392–1573)
Medium:Pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image (a): 38 5/16 × 19 9/16 in. (97.3 × 49.7 cm) Overall with mounting (a): 75 13/16 × 25 11/16 in. (192.5 × 65.3 cm) Overall with knobs (a): 75 13/16 × 27 1/2 in. (192.5 × 69.8 cm) Image (b): 38 3/8 × 19 5/8 in. (97.4 × 49.8 cm) Overall with mounting (b): 75 9/16 × 25 11/16 in. (192 × 65.3 cm) Overall with knobs (b): 75 9/16 × 28 1/8 in. (192 × 71.4 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:2015.300.53a, b
The scroll at the left depicts a cold moon suspended over flying geese. In the distance bare trees on the mountains are weighted by winter snow, while in the foreground leafless branches extend over the water. The elements of autumn and winter are concentrated on the left side, leaving an open view of water on the right. The composition, except for two tall pines in the center, is mirrored in the companion scroll, creating a vista of water between the land masses when the two are hung together.
Two large seals of Keison, the artist who painted the landscapes, are impressed at the top left corner of the left scroll and at the top right corner of the right scroll. The balanced juxtaposition of both the seals and the two compositions suggest that the scrolls, which were acquired by the Burke Collection in two separate purchases several years apart, may originally have been a diptych. If this is the case, the scroll at the right, though it has no obvious seasonal imagery, must have been intended as an allusion to spring and summer.
On the other hand, it is possible the scrolls were part of a triptych. Keison painted a stylistically similar ink-monochrome triptych that is now in the Tochigi Prefectural Museum, Utsunomiya. The central panel illustrates an old Chinese fable, the Three Laughers of Tiger Valley (Kokei Sanshō); the side panels show landscapes that are nearly identical to these two, except that they lack seasonal references. Japanese paintings of Buddhist deities often were flanked by subjects taken from nature. The most famous example of this tradition is a triptych by the Southern Song painter Muqi fl. late 13th-early 14th century) now in Daitokuji, Kyoto. The central panel represents White-Robed Guanyin, the side panels, monkeys and a crane. The earliest Japanese example is a fourteenth-century White-Robed Kannon (Yamato Bunkakan, Nara) flanked by two landscapes (private collection, Japan) painted by Gukei Yūe (fl. mid-14th century). A triptych by Keison formerly in the collection of Marquis Shimazu depicts a Chan patriarch in the center panel flanked by side panels with birds.
The Burke landscapes are firmly united by stylistic consistencies. Rocks, mountains, trees, and houses are sharply outlined, and forms are clearly defined by bold, angular brushstrokes and by the juxtaposition of dark and light inks. The rocky hills and houses convey a sense of solid mass, and the mountains in the background have a crystalline hardness. There is little sense of depth in these highly structured, crowded compositions. These features reflect the artist's dependence on a formula established by Kenkō Shōkei (cat. no. 52), one that became popular in the region of Kamakura. And indeed, Keison was a faithful follower of the master. As the first part of his name suggests, he was in fact Shōkei's pupil. He became associated with Shōkei perhaps after 1480, when the latter returned to Kamakura after completing his studies with Geiami (1431–1485) in Kyoto. No documents concerning Keison's life have yet been found, but paintings with his seals suggest that he was a versatile artist, comfortable with landscape, figure painting, and the bird-and-flower genre. While he sometimes painted in the soft hahoku (splashed ink) style, he was equally adept in the strong, hard manner of these landscapes.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Tochigi Prefectural Museum and Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History 1998, nos. 9, 105.  Fontein and Hickman 1970, nos. 35, 36.  Tochigi Prefectural Museum and Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History 1998, fig. 37.
Signature: (upper outside corner of each scroll) artist's seals: rectangular relief seal Hōgen 法眼 (Eye of the Dharma) above square intaglio seal Keison 啓孫
[ Joseph U. Seo , New York, until 1969; sold to Burke (sold as a single scroll)]; [ Takashi Yanagi , Kyoto, until 1974; sold to Burke (second scroll)]; Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (1969/1974–2015; 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. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Great Waves: Chinese Themes in the Arts of Korea and Japan I," March 1–September 21, 2003.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Post-renovation opening exhibition: Japanese galleries," April 11, 2006–January 17, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japan: A History of Style," March 8, 2021–April 24, 2022.
Aizawa Masahiko 相澤正彦, and Hashimoto Shinji 橋本慎司. Kantō suibokuga: Kata to imēji no keifu 関東水墨画 : 型とイメージの系譜 (Kantō region ink-painting: lineage of stylistic models andimagery in fifteenth and sixteenth century Japan) Tokyo: Kokusho Kankōkai, 2007, pp. 134–35, 389, figs. 15, 16.
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. 87, cat. no. 108.
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