Calligraphy with Willow and Swallows

Calligraphy with Willow and Swallows


Ikkyū Sōjun

(Japanese, 1394-1481)

Hanging scroll, ink on paper

Overall: 104 x 34.8 cm (40 15/16 x 13 11/16 in.)

Gift from the Collection of George Gund III 2015.463


The jumbled, even raucous appearance of this hanging scroll is no accident; the scratchy willow trunk—a single, carefully modulated brushstroke for most of its length—has been portrayed with an eye toward amplifying the structure and the ink values of the Chinese characters arranged in file next to it. Its four principal branches are drawn in rich, dark black ink. Thin ink lines—applied in an intriguing mix of light, dark, and thick, dry brushstrokes—comb through the "leafage" washes, providing an underlying network that intersects with and overlays the calligraphic elements. Interspersed amid the upper branches are swallows flitting upward. Each is formed from three or four short curvilinear brushstrokes that create an upside-down "V" to define the wings, with two additional strokes for head and body. This kind of visual shorthand was often used by the Zen priest Ikkyu for depicting the natural world.

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