Sesson Shukei (Japanese, 1504–1589?)
Pair of six-panel screens; ink on paper
Each screen 62 x 137 in. (157.5 x 358.9 cm)
Purchase, Rogers Fund, and The Vincent Astor Foundation, Mary Livingston Griggs Burke Foundation and Florence and Herbert Irving Gifts, 1992 (1992.8.1,2)
Amidst a rocky landscape, eleven furry gibbons gambol about, sit in contemplation, and point toward the moon's reflection. Symbols of the underlying unity of all living creatures, gibbons have long been a popular theme for Zen monk-painters. This composition on a pair of folding screens is considered a late work of the Zen monk-artist Sesson Shukei and is painted with his characteristic humor and staccato contrasts of strong black ink combined with pale wash, forming rhythmic patterns that create a unified whole. The last great painter of the Muromachi period, Sesson, along with his contemporaries, exemplified the full assimilation of the Chinese-derived ink painting tradition into a form that was uniquely Japanese.