Shisuizu (‘The Four Sleepers’) by Nagasawa Rosetsu

【A designated cultural property of Sakata City】

Mid-Edo Period (18C)

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754~1799), a painter in the mid-Edo period, was also the apprentice of Maruyama Ōkyo. He created a number of shōheki-ga (sliding screen works) on behalf of Ōkyo, and stood out from his student peers for his exceptional expressive ability with bold brushstrokes. Shōheki-ga, literally ‘barrier or partition painting’, was a general term for works painted on fusuma or shoji (sliding rice paper doors and screens), as well as wall paintings affixed to alcoves, shelves, and walls above nageshi (long wooden screens). This painting, entitled ‘The Four Sleepers’, features a tiger alongside Zen master Fenggan (Bukan in Japanese), disciple Hanshan (Kanzan in Japanese) and Shide (Jittoku in Japanese), all of whom are sleeping. Kanzan, a reclusive poet, and Jittoku, a monastery servant, were Buddhist monks who held low-level positions at Guoqingsi, a temple on China’s sacred Mount Tiantai; all three were said to have lived there at the end of the Tang Dynasty (618–907).

Works like this, with humor in each of the faces on show and even the fierce tiger dozing comfortably, reflect the personality of Rosetsu, who was synonymous with esoteric art. The seal applied depicts a fish, (an ice-shaped seal in raised shubun font, with part of the top right missing) confirming that this work was created after May 1792.