Six-panel folding screen, ink and color on gilded paper
Image: 133.1 x 267.6 cm (52 3/8 x 105 3/8 in.); Overall: 136.5 x 271 cm (53 3/4 x 106 11/16 in.); Closed: 135.6 x 46.3 x 11 cm (53 3/8 x 18 1/4 x 4 5/16 in.); Panel: 133.1 x 44.6 cm (52 3/8 x 17 9/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund 1954.127
Infrequently Japanese painters chose a single byøbu instead of the normal format of paired six-fold screens. These works represent commissions executed for special occasions and specific interior settings. Single byøbu are often smaller than their paired counterparts because they act as furniture in restricted spaces; oftentimes they were used to shield tea utensils or passageways from view. To date, three single, six-fold screens by or attributed to Roshu on the subject of the Ivy Lane are known. All are modest in scale, yet compelling. Here, a century before the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, we see a pictorial construct and rich, scintillating palette that anticipate the work of Paul Gauguin. Roshu's poetic landscape vision is refreshingly modern, unencumbered by detailed, naturalistic brushwork or rational sight lines for normal compositional mapping. The visual terrain evident here has the directness and naiveté Westerners have come to recognize in works by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, folk and "outsider" artists, and even Minimalist painters--Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko come to mind. Roshu's principal achievement, however, lies in his re-trieval and then reinterpretation of late Heian designs in various media: lacquer, papermaking, calligraphy, and of course painting. Herein are the origins of the histor-ical yamato-e style and the source to which subsequent generations of Edo painters returned for inspiration and guidance in fabricating fresh visions of the emotional landscape. Indeed, Roshu's painting could be mistaken for a copy of one from the twelfth century, or perhaps even a rediscovered original, were it not for the attractive splotches of watery ink that lend surface texture to the darker rocks and mountain forms. Known as tarashikomi, this diffused ink technique became popular among the Rinpa school artists early in the seventeenth century. The Flowers of the Four Seasons  is a tour de force of this demanding skill. The subject of Roshu's byøbu lies in the later Heian era, tucked away in a poem contained in the anthology Tales of Ise: a courtier (in the blue outer robe) traveling far from the capital happens upon an itinerant monk on a pass on Mount Utsu in eastern Japan. He entrusts the monk with a letter to a former lover in the capital, Kyoto, from which he has been exiled. The poignancy of the subject, set in this charged and luminous setting, attracted Roshp (who was not a prolific artist) more than any other Edo painter, perhaps because he found himself exiled at the age of sixteen on account of a scandal involving his father.
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