Early Japanese Painting (1338-1603)

The first settlers in Japan are thought to have arrived from Eastern Asia around 11,000BCE or perhaps before. By 300BCE, intricately designed and elaborately decorated clay vessels were being created. By the 7th century, Buddhism from China and Korea became popular in Japan, and most artistic energy was devoted to Buddhism in the form of sculpture, dress, and architecture. Landscape painting in Japan didn’t gain popularity until the Muromachi period (1338-1573.) At this time, large numbers of Chinese works of art including paintings were imported. This profoundly influenced Japanese artists who studied the works and began to produce their own uniquely styled paintings. In 1603, Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period gained control of the government. They ensured peace by imposing strong rules of law. Peace did come, but at the expense of strict laws about art and many other social activities. Creativity gradually slowed down for over 100 years.

Note: Also included in this section is Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Tenshō Shūbun (approx. 1390 -1444/1450)

Early in his career, Tenshō Shūbun studied painting under Josetsu, a Chinese immigrant. Under Josetsu’s influence, Shūbun started studying Chinese Song Dynasty master painters. Japanese painting proceeded to develop its own distinctive style over the next few centuries with its foundations rooted in China. Tenshō is considered one of Japan’s greatest early painters.

Shubun_-_Landscape_of_the_Four_SeasonsLandscape of the Four Seasons, Tenshō Shūbun (approximately 1420-1440

In this scroll, he used white space to create depth, simulating the effects of atmosphere and fog. He created a strong foreground with the small structure and the figures as an anchor for the eye to explore the rest of the scene. Landscape photographs are usually stronger with a good foreground in front. It adds depth and perspective to the entire picture. Strong foregrounds will become a common theme in painting as time goes on. Create a four seasons image of your own!


Shubun_-_untitledReading in a Bamboo Grove, Tenshō Shūbun (1446)

This painting is considered a national treasure in Japan. The sharp edges of the foreground tree and of the trees on the top of the ridge fade into the distance, creating a mysterious feeling. Landscape photographers often try to create a sense of mystery with lighting and atmosphere in this old and reliable tradition. You must often wait a long time for conditions to be right, but the wait’s worth it!

Sesshū Tōyō (1420 – 1506)

(Oda Tōyō since 1431, also known as Tōyō, Unkoku, or Bikeisai)

Sesshū Tōyō studied under Tenshō Shūbun and eventually developed a new bolder style of ink and wash painting which became popular. He studied in China and was influenced by the old Chinese masters; however, he developed a new style which became unique to Japan from his time forward.

Sesshu-View_of_Ama-no-HashidateView of Ama-no-Hashidate, Sesshū Tōyō, (1501-1506)

This is a huge birds-eye view in a style rarely seen before. He took what he had learned and created a new style while retaining the traditional ideas of showing depth via fog and mist. He used bolder and darker inks, which show more detail than before. As landscape photographers, it’s possible to study the great masters of painting and photography and come up with your own unique style. He made a scroll depicting the four seasons that’s 50 feet long! Also, he created two important Japanese Zen gardens.

Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539 – 1610)

Hasegawa Tōhaku is considered possibly the best landscape artist of his time in Japan. He preferred the more subtle and traditional techniques, but still made his unique contributions to landscape art in Japan and the rest of the world.

Pine_TreesPine Trees (right hand screen), Hasegawa Tōhaku. Unknown date.

These panels are also considered a national treasure in Japan and might possibly be the first works showing only pine trees as the entire subject. This is truly landscape art for the sake of landscape art. One of the most popular forms of landscape photography today uses trees and mist for a three dimensional effect. Even though ‘trees and fog’ is a 500-year-old idea (at least), landscape photographers of today can study it and make new interpretations.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Traditional Japanese art continued into the 1700s, so Katsushika Hokusai is included in this section. He is best known for his series called “36 views of Mt. Fuji.” It’s a superb series and should be seen as a great inspiration for modern landscape photographers to create similar series of modern landscape subjects. These could be parks, rivers, valleys or virtually anything where numerous views could bring new perspectives to an iconic landmark or place.

Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai (series 1826-1833)

Hokusai was successful before this series, but these 36 prints made him internationally famous. This image remains his most successful image and is still used today on a variety of products around the world. Although the series depicts 36 views of Mt. Fuji, the main subject here is the iconic wave, which dwarfs the 12,388 ft. (3776m) Fuji. This truly shows how small we are compared to the raw power of nature.

Red_Fuji_southern_wind_clear_morningRed Fuji, Southern Wind, Clear Morning, Katsushika Hokusai (series 1826-1833)

These two images from the series of 36 are quite different from each other. Remember this when you are photographing an iconic place. Any two photos can be almost completely different depending on numerous variables including location, light, season, etc. Do a series of your own! Show your own local icon from as many different angles and conditions as possible.