National TreasurePine Trees screen

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  • 紙本墨画松林図
  • By Hasegawa Touhaku
  • A pair of six-fold screens
  • Ink on paper
  • 156.8x356.0each
  • Azuchi-Momoyama period/16th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-10471

Along with Kanô Eitoku (1543-1590) and Kaihô Yûshô (1533-1615), Hasegawa Tôhaku (1539-1610) was an active participant in the painting circles of the Momoyama period (1573-1615), and in his art he diligently explored the expressive range of ink and the effects of light. This pair of screens is Tôhaku's representative work, a masterpiece of early modern ink painting.

A dense mist fills the entire picture; the pine grove of the left screen recedes deeply into the snow-covered mountains at the extreme right, while two groups of trees on the right screen incline towards each other and suggest the undulations of the ground. The brushwork used to depict the pine needles and background is rough. Walking through the thick mist, black shadows appear; you are surrounded by pine trees and can just detect the tops of mountains. The quiet scene, a momentary experience captured for eternity, evokes the rustic and refined realm of wabi ("elegant simplicity").

There are many enigmas about this pair of screens, which indicate that this might have been a preparatory work: the paper joints are irregular; the measurements of the width of the paper in the right and left screens are different; there is a divergence in the ground line; the cropping of the pine tree at the far right is unusual; and the seals for "Hasegawa" and "Tôhaku" at the outside edge of each screen are different from the standard seals for this artist. The theme of the painting draws on such subjects as Hamamatsu from the Japanese-style (J. yamato-e) landscape tradition. On the other hand, it is also a remarkable example of how the naturalistic ideas and ink-painting method of the Chinese painter-monk Mu Qi (active c. late thirteenth century) of the Southern Song dynasty (c. 1127-1279), much favored by Tôhaku, were embraced in Japan.