The Four Seasons

Attributed to Odawara Kana school
Muromachi period, mid-to late-16th century
Pair of six-panel folding screens; Ink and light color on paper
Each 61 x 142 1/8 in. (154.9 x 361.0 cm); 1979.216.1-2

Artist Comments

David Henry Hwang
Though the screens are from Japan, the artist has appropriated Chinese styles of landscape painting, which would've been considered very chic. Yet the execution of this typically Chinese subject incorporates distinctly Japanese visual elements, including flatness and an almost graphic quality. Moreover, the work was painted at a time when this style was already considered dated within China itself. They might therefore be considered neither "authentically" Chinese nor Japanese. Interestingly, however, painting techniques such as these were eventually incorporated into the mainstream of Japanese art. The screens therefore remind me of contemporary cross-cultural work, in which traditional mythologies and icons are sometimes reinterpreted through modern sensibilities, resulting in pieces which might be considered "incorrect" in strict anthropological or historical terms, but which may nonetheless show artistic merit.

Pico Iyer
If someone were to ask me why I choose to live in Asia, I would point her to these screens: the absences at their center, the mist, the indefinable sense of sadness at their heart. Looking closely, I see that the landscapes are richly populated; and yet all the figures are tiny, inconsequential almost, in the context of the larger pattern, and at their center is an emptiness-a cloud, a mystery-that I can still believe to be the heart of East Asian cultures today.

In Oriental art, I am reminded, the subject of a painting may be what is left out; and people leave themselves out, often, so that a feeling-as here of wistfulness, or melancholy-becomes much stronger than the press of personality. The individual recedes before the passing of the seasons, and in these paintings I feel I can see an affirmation of the moment in the face of (and not smudged by) the fact that moments always pass. A joyful participation, as the Buddhists say, in a world of sorrows.

When first I went to live in Japan, in 1987, I found that no religion was observed more ceremoniously, or more selflessly, than the seasons; in life as on the canvas, people disappear inside a scene as if not to smudge it with themselves. I look here at the figures turning around a corner, I see a lonely spire poking through the mist, I imagine a bird's distant cry and I feel as if something is calling to me from the next valley over but one.

Malavika Sarukkai
Two six-paneled screens that may be seen together, or folded to contemplate one season at a time compressing functionality with artistry. A river winds through the four landscapes, each sharp with the season's flavor, each depicting the benevolence of nature. Each season is linked to the next, and the human within it links with nature. These superbly reflective screens mirror beauty and harmony. Human dwellings nestle in mountainous crags and riverfronts, reflecting the same tones in color and emotion, suggesting merging, cyclicity, hope…