Yamaguchi Sekkei (1644-1732)
Geese and Reeds
Framed panel, ink and gold fleck on paper
W. 54 cm x H. 128 cm (21” x 50”)
A 17/18th century framed Japanese painting depicting a pair of wild geese amid reeds at the edge of a waterway. Typical of the artist, Yamaguchi Sekkei, the brushwork is suggestive and sophisticated; the composition tranquil and uncluttered. Due to their migratory nature, wild geese were a seasonal presence in Japan and their poetic associations were intrinsically understood. The cry of the goose evoked the sense of melancholy felt as autumn faded and winter approached. Wild geese were also thought to be an innate part of the natural world’s physical manifestation of yin and yang as they fly south to escape the cold and dark yin forces of winter and then north again to escape the excess heat of summer.
Rather than painting in the prevailing styles of his time, Yamaguchi Sekkei created an entirely unique style which was compared by Okakura Tenshin to the individualism of Soga Shohaku, Ito Jakuchu and Watanabe Shiko. This unique style was fueled by his fascination with Muromachi era ink paintings, in particular works inspired by the Chinese artist Muqi and his contact with works by the Japanese master Sesshu Toyo. His loyalty to the styles of previous ages earned him great respect and praise from his contemporaries.
It is said that he was originally taught by Hasegawa Sakon (1593~), the fourth son of Hasegawa Tohaku, and also Kano Eino of the Kyoto Kano school. It is debatable whether he learned directly from Hasegawa Sakon due to their respective ages, though one of his masterpieces “Autumn Maples” from Daigo-ji temple, is unmistakably painted in the Hasegawa school style. That pair of screens are registered as an Important Cultural Property and were part of the Old Japanese Art exhibition which traveled to Germany in 1939. Among his other masterpieces is a painting of Buddha’s Nirvana held at Kiyomizu-dera temple and his ink landscape paintings on the sliding doors of Genkoan temple in Kyoto. His works adorn the walls and halls of more than 15 temples in and around Kyoto, attesting to the reverence with which he was held.