Your gateway to Japan’s finest art and multifaceted culture

Wed, Nov 22, 2023

Painter saint Sesshu’s masterpieces to be highlighted at Kyoto National Museum

Zen priest Sesshu (1420–1506?), who sought the unity of Zen and art and was often eulogized as gasei (painter saint), is regarded as one of the most influential painters in the history of Japanese art. “The Legend of Sesshū: Birth of a Master Painter,” a special exhibition scheduled for the spring of 2024 in Kyoto, will likely provide us with an opportunity to figure out how and why the medieval artist came to be revered as one of the best, if not the best, by viewing and admiring his oeuvre — six of which are designated as Japan’s national treasures — along with works by artists who admired him.

National Treasure
View of Amanohashidate
By Sesshū (1420–1506?)
Muromachi period, 16th century
Kyoto National Museum

Special Exhibition
The Legend of Sesshū: Birth of a Master Painter

Apr 13 (Sat) – May 26 (Sun), 2024

Kyoto National Museum
(Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto)

*See outline below for details

The exhibition, which will open on Apr. 13, 2024, at the Kyoto National Museum, will juxtapose Sesshu’s masterpieces with those of later artists (especially painters from pre-modern Japan) who venerated the legendary painter and learned from his works — Unkoku Togan, Hasegawa Tohaku, Kano Tanyu and Soga Shohaku, just to name a few — to look into how the works of the charismatic artist of the Muromachi period was received and his reputation as gasei built up over time.

National Treasure
Autumn and Winter Landscapes
By Sesshū (1420–1506?)
Muromachi period, 15th century
Tokyo National Museum

Among Sesshu’s works to be showcased are two designated national treasures “View of Amanohashidate” and “Autumn and Winter Landscapes,” which are perhaps the most well-known among his masterpieces. “Amanohashidate” is a unique bird’s-eye-view of the sandbar in Kyoto, one of the three most famous scenic spots in Japan. Kyoto National Museum, which houses the painting, goes as far as to say, its “combination of soft, wet ink tones, precise brushwork and sublime composition represent the acme” of Sesshu’s art. Sesshu’s unique sense of composition and powerful brush strokes are also demonstrated in “Landscapes,” which will be borrowed from the Tokyo National Museum.

Important Cultural Property
Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons (left screen)
By Sesshū (1420–1506?)
Muromachi period, 15th century
Kyoto National Museum
Mt. Fuji by Sesshu and by his admirers juxtaposed

What makes this exhibition interesting is that it puts Sesshu’s works together with those by other known artists who followed in his footsteps — sometimes by tracing the works of the master painter — to reach his level of creativity. That “Mount Fuji, Miho no Matsubara, and Seiken-ji Temple” attributed to Sesshu served as an exemplary representation of Japan’s tallest mountain is obvious just by comparing it with works such as by Edo-period painters Kano Tanyu (1602-74), Soga Shohaku (1730-81) and Shiba Kokan (1747-1818), which will also go on display.

Mount Fuji, Miho no Matsubara, and Seiken-ji Temple
Attributed to Sesshū (1420–1506?)
Muromachi period, 16th century
Eisei Bunko Museum, Tokyo
Mount Fuji and Miho no Matsubara (left screen)
By Soga Shōhaku (1730–1781)
Edo period, 18th century
Miho Museum, Shiga
Mount Fuji
By Kano Tan’yū (1602–1674)
Edo period, 17th century
Mount Fuji and Yabe in Suruga
By Shiba Kōkan (1747–1818)
Edo period, 1789
Some works of other artists to go on display:
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (right screen)
By Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610)
Momoyama period, 1607
Ryōsoku-in Temple, Kyoto
“Copy of Self Portrait by Sesshū,”from Sketches by Tan’yū
By Kano Tan’yū (1602–1674)
Edo period, 17th century
Kyoto National Museum
Pair of Cranes with Bamboo and Plum
By Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800)
Edo period, 18th century
Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo
(On view April 30-May 26, 2024)

Outline of the event


Sat, Apr 13, 2024〜Sun, May 26, 2024

Special Exhibition
The Legend of Sesshū: Birth of a Master Painter

Part I: Apr 13 - May 6, 2024
Part II: May 8 - 26, 2024

9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
(Last admission at 5:00 p.m.)

Museum website


Kyoto National Museum
(Heisei Chishinkan Wing)

527 Chaya-cho
Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

Closing day

Mondays & May 7 (Tue), 2024
*Open from Apr 29 (Mon) through May 6 (Mon), 2024


Tel. 075-525-2473



Related articles

Cookies on the TSUMUGU web portal

We use cookies to personalize content and ads, analyze access and for other reasons in order to improve user convenience.