Sugitani Sessho (1827-1895) | Nachi Falls | Japanese Scroll Painting



Nachi Falls

A oversized painting by Sugitani Sessho (1827-1895).

Ink and color on silk.

Circa 1885.


Image – H. 66” x W. 37.5” (168 cm x 95 cm)

Scroll – H. 95” x W. 44” (241 cm x 111 cm)

Price: USD 19500

Nachi Falls is widely recognized as the tallest waterfall in Japan. Situated in the Kii Mountain Range of Wakayama, the waterfall is at the center of a UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage Site—one of only two in the world. Since ancient times, the waterfall and the surrounding area have been an important spiritual center, predating Buddhism’s introduction to Japan. The waterfall is most famously depicted in the Kamakura period National Treasure painting held at the Nezu Museum. This is both a religious painting and landscape work depicting an actual waterfall, and is heralded as one of the masterpieces of Japanese painting. Since the Kamakura period, many artists have tried their hand at the subject though it is by no means common.

Sessho is widely known as a landscape painter who sketched from nature. Almost certainly, he visited this site on his extensive travels. Whether he perceived this as a religious work or purely as a landscape painting remains unknown. What is unmistakable, however, is the majesty of the painting and the humbling power of nature that it conveys. Its large size and meticulous execution point to it having been painted for exhibition. Sessho used a myriad of axe-cut strokes to define the angular rocks and give shape to the towering cliffs. The dark, rocky surface contrasts the radiant column of pure white water, which is detailed with carefully painted dots and washes of gofun. The season is defined by hints of autumnal colors that tinge the trees as they fade into the mist.

Sugitani Sessho (1827-1895) was a court painter (goyo eshi) in service to the Hosokawa clan of the Kumamoto Samurai domain. An exceptional painter and last of the Yano school lineage. The Yano school is a branch of the Unkoku school, which holds Sesshu Toyo at its head. He originally studied under the Yano school’s Endo Yoshiyuki before studying under his father, Sugitani Yukinao (1790-1845). Sessho took over the Yano school after his father’s death in 1845. A year later, he accompanied his clan chief, Matsui Takayuki, to Edo. On this trip, he began to sketch landscapes from nature (shasei). He returned via Kyoto where he was inspired by the works of Shijo school painters before staying in Osaka and being strongly influenced by Mori Ippo. It was after this that he began to use the name ‘Sessho’. In 1887, he moved to Tokyo and became a member of the Japan Art Association and received many awards for his paintings. In 1893, one of his landscape paintings was exhibited at The Chicago World Exposition. This work is now in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. In 1895, he received the top prize at the 4th Japanese National Industrial Exposition.

An extensive exhibition of his paintings was held in 2000 at the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art. One of the most impressive landscape paintings is held at the Eisei Bunko Museum in Tokyo; one that bears strong similarities to ‘Nachi Falls’. The sketch for this painting also survives and, in his diary, Sessho notes that he visited and sketched the site in 1884. It would be reasonable to assume that the work offered here dates from a similar time.

His works are held in the Museum of Imperial Collections, the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum, the Tokyo National Museum and the Eisei Bunko Museum, among others.