Viewing a Waterfall

Kushiro Unsen 釧雲泉 Japanese

Not on view

A scholar in a white robe standing next to an aged pine tree on a rugged mountain ridge contemplates a distant waterfall. A scholar gazing upon a waterfall is an age-old painting theme throughout East Asia, which first emerged in Song dynasty painting. The Late Edo literati artist Unsen presents this conventional motif in a rustic setting, presumably inspired by the impressive brushstrokes of the Yuan-dynasty literati painters. Through his rapid, repetitive and sometimes eccentric brushwork, the scholar is framed in a precipitous gorge.

An original couplet of Chinese verse by the artist is inscribed along with his signature above the pine tree. It reads:

飛瀑銜秋氣 / 垂藤引夏涼

A soaring waterfall
harnesses the autumn air;
Dangling vines
pull in coolness to summer.

(Translated by Tim Zhang)

According to his signature, Unsen painted this work while based in Bitchū province (present-day Okayama prefecture) as a guest of a local official. At a young age, Unsen studied painting and Chinese with Chinese merchants visiting the port city of Nagasaki. Later he traveled around Japan, establishing friendships with many famous intellectuals. He became known for his expressive landscapes inspired by Chinese literati pain

Viewing a Waterfall, Kushiro Unsen 釧雲泉 (Japanese, 1759–1811), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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