National TreasureSnowy Landscape

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  • Ink and light color on paper
  • 110.3x49.7
  • Southern Song dynasty/13th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • TA-141

Liang Kai (active early thirteenth century) served as a court painter in the Imperial Painting Academy during the middle of the Southern Song dynasty (c. 1127-1279). He excelled in depictions of human figures and landscapes in addition to those of Daoist and Buddhist deities. During the Jiatai era (1201-1204) he was promoted to the level of Expectant Official (Ch. daizhao) of the Academy and received the Golden Belt, the highest honor possible. Liang Kai, however, chose to abandon such honors and took the decidedly unusual action of calling himself Liang Fengzi ("Eccentric Liang").

This painting demonstrates Liang Kai's strength as a landscape painter, skillfully depicting a storm-threatened scene that recedes into the far distance. Liang Kai did not choose to show a small corner of nature as in the styles popularized by the Southern-Song painters Ma Yuan (active c. 1190-1225) and Xia Gui (active 1195-1230), but rather created imposing snow-covered mountains as the background for two travelers and a flock of geese drawn in exceedingly fine detail.

After having been brought to Japan, this painting entered the Higashiyama Collection (J. Higashiyama gomotsu) of the Ashikaga Shogunate and was prized as part of a three-painting set that included Sakyamuni Descending from the Mountains (J. Shussan Shaka) as the central painting. Once it left the Ashikaga Shogunate collection, the painting was acquired by the Sakai warrior family of the Obama Domain in Wakasa and then by the Mitsui Family Collection.