Old Plum

Artist: Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, 1589–1651)

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: 1646

Culture: Japan

Medium: Four sliding-door panels (fusuma); ink, color, gold, and gold leaf on paper

Dimensions: Overall (of all four panels): 68 3/4 x 191 1/8 in. (174.6 x 485.5 cm)
Overall (a): 68 3/8 x 47 5/8 in. (173.7 x 121 cm)
Overall (b): 68 3/8 x 48 3/4 in. (173.7 x 123.8 cm)
Overall (c): 68 1/2 x 47 3/4 in. (174 x 121.3 cm)
Overall (d): 68 1/2 x 47 3/4 in. (174 x 121.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.268.48a–d


The massive black trunk of an ancient plum tree with bending, twisting branches spans nearly sixteen feet across four sliding panels. The reptilian old tree sprouts blossoms, which convey the atmosphere of a cold early spring morning and symbolize birth and renewal. These panels originally formed one wall of a room in the Tenshōin, a subtemple of Myōshinji, a Zen temple in Kyoto. During the 1880s, they were sold to a private collector and trimmed at the top to conform to the smaller dimensions of his home. On the reverse of these panels was a composition depicting the Chinese theme of the Eight Daoist Immortals, which formed a wall in the adjacent room. This composition was later separated and remounted, and it is now in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.