Wandering through Streams and Mountains: Landscape Painting in East Asia

This two-part installation highlighting Japan and China focuses on landscape painting, one of the most important art forms of East Asia. Although the word "landscape" best captures the subject matter of the works on view, no such word existed in traditional Japanese or Chinese discourse. In both languages, the genre is called "mountain and water" (Japanese: sansui, Chinese: shanshui 山水, evoking the key components of depictions of nature in East Asian painting. 
Two distinct strains of landscape painting developed in Japan by the fourteenth century. One followed the example of the mostly monochromatic landscapes of China's Song dynasty (960-1279). Built on a Chinese tradition, these images nonetheless feature numerous formal innovations, including dramatically pruned pine trees and thick, swirling mists. The other landscape tradition in Japan focused on brilliantly colored scenes quite different from contemporary Chinese works. More ornamental than topographical, these paintings often used thick layers of paint or gold leaf. The latter technique is seen in the pair of screens on display, Tigers and Bamboo, in which majestic tigers emerge from a bamboo grove in an atmospheric haze that dazzles and flickers against a gold ground. 
Japanese painters working in both landscape traditions were inspired by the distinctive seasons of their homeland. Often the passing of spring to summer or autumn to winter was depicted within a single image or across a series of screens. Beloved scenic locations, such as that depicted in The Hozu River, seen to your left, were also popular subjects for landscape painters-and remain so to the present day. 

Landscape paintings in China often were meant to invite the viewer to mentally travel through the scene. A point of entry into the landscape was provided, often by means of a path or a sliver of land in the foreground. As the scene continues upward (in a hanging scroll) or leftward (in a handscroll), both perspective and scale may change, and the viewer is taken on a journey through mountain and water, time and space. 
Landscape emerged as an independent genre in Chinese painting during the tumultuous later years of the Tang dynasty (618-906). As the dynasty crumbled, elites yearned to withdraw to the bucolic setting of their country estates. Painters responded by creating images that reflect the idealized retreats envisioned by their patrons. By the Northern Song dynasty (960- 1127), court painters were producing monumental landscapes whose imposing mountains and intricately arranged streams and trees came to be viewed as visual metaphors for the well-ordered state. The dynasty also saw the rise of painters drawn from the new class of scholar-officials. These talented amateurs further transformed the genre by producing landscapes aimed at expressing their own artistic visions. 
After the Song dynasty, painters began to adopt and reinterpret the styles and tropes of earlier artists to the extent that landscape painting in China became largely an artistic dialogue with past masters. Thus, the ultimate inspiration for the landscape painter's natural forms lay not necessarily in an artist's personal experience with rural scenery but in the history of landscape painting itself. 

  • 30812
    Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868
    Maruyama Ōkyo 圓山應擧, 1733–1795
    The Hozu River (Hozugawa 保津川図), 1772
  • 68366
    Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868
    Maruyama Ōkyo 圓山應擧, 1733–1795
    Willow Trees in Spring Storm, ca. 1794
  • 33406
    Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868
    Tigers and Bamboo, 18th century
    y1990-70 a-b
  • 27303
    Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868 to Meiji period, 1868–1912
    Kano Hōgai 狩野 芳崖 , attributed to, 1828 - 1888
    Cranes and Pine Trees in a Landscape, 19th century
  • 32913
    Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868
    Andō Hiroshige 安藤広重, 1797–1858
    Rocky Island: Tanokuchi in Bizen Province, mid-19th century
  • 10162
    Sakai Hōitsu 酒井抱一, 1761–1828
    after Ogata Kōrin 尾形光琳, 1658 - 1716
    Crows in the Moonlight
  • 129706
    Japanese, late Edo period, 1600–1868 to early Meiji period, 1868–1912
    Kano Eitoku Tatsunobu 狩野永悳立信, 1814–1891
    Four Seasons Landscape 四時佳景一覧圖 (Shiji kakei ichiran zu), 1882
  • 101153
    Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868
    Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎, 1760–1849
    Crow, Sword, and Plum Blossoms, from the series Shisei no uchi (The Four Great Clans of Japan), early to mid 19th century
  • 32799
    Chinese, Southern Song dynasty, 1127–1279
    Wang Hong 王洪, active ca. 1131–ca. 1161
    Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers (Xiao-Xiang ba jing 瀟湘八景), ca. 1150
    y1984-14 a-b
  • 32910
    Chinese, Southern Song dynasty, 1127–1279
    colophon: Zhang Daqian 張大千, 1899–1983
    Peach Blossoms by a Spring River (Tao hua chun shui 桃花春水 ), undated; 12th to 13th centuries
  • 32821
    Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    Wang Fu 王紱, 1362–1416
    Remembering Ni Zan's 'Wutong Tree and Bamboo by a Thatched Pavilion' (Yi Ni Yunlin Wu zhu caotang tu 憶倪雲林梧竹草堂圖), 1408
  • 36381
    Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    Shen Zhou 沈周, 1427–1509
    Farewell at a Spring River (Chun jiang song bie 春江送別 ), 1499
  • 23224
    Chinese, early Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    attributed to Lin Chun 林 椿, active ca. 1174–ca. 1189
    Doves and Rose Bush (Hui ge tu 繪鴿圖), late 14th–15th century
  • 23342
    Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    Tang Yin 唐寅, 1470–1524
    Seeing Off a Guest on a Mountain Path (Shanlu song ke 山路送客), undated; ca. 1505–10
  • 23553
    Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    Wang E 王諤, active ca. 1488–ca. 1541
    Winter in the Mountains (Dong jing shanshui 冬景山水), after 1510
  • 31382
    Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    Lan Ying 藍 瑛, 1585–ca. 1664
    after Huang Gongwang 黃公望, 1269 - 1354
    Landscape in the style of Huang Gongwang, 1624
  • 31321
    Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
    Wang Hui 王翬, 1632–1717
    Landscape in the Style of Huang Gongwang, 1660
  • 28883
    Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
    Fang Shishu, 1692–1751
    Album of Landscapes, Plants, Figures, and Animals: Ducks under Willows, 1745
    y1962-111 b
  • 30912
    Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
    Wang Xuehao 王學浩, 1754 - 1832
    Landscape after Wang Fu, 1831
  • 55947
    Chinese, Modern period, 1912–present
    Li Huasheng 李華生, Chinese, born 1944
    Peach Blossom Spring (Taoyuan tu 桃源圖), 1986