White heron on a snowy willow

Artist: Soami (d. 1525)
Historical period(s)
Muromachi period, mid 15th-early 16th century
Ink on paper
H x W (image): 92.9 x 36.4 cm (36 9/16 x 14 5/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — funds provided by the bequest of Edith Ehrman
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

heron, Japan, kakemono, Muromachi period (1333 - 1573), snow
Provenance research underway.

The form of a gnarled willow branch and white heron emerge subtly against a pale gray sky. Contour lines and explicit definition of form are almost entirely absent from this painting. By painting only the "negative" areas, such as the sky and the underside of the branch, the white paper itself is made to indicate the positive forms of the heron and snow. The ghostly form of the heron is defined almost entirely by "negative wash," the tinting of the area around the bird. The limb of the willow is represented by a few broad, rough strokes of ink along the underside, a dynamic technique known as haboku (broken ink) that was introduced into Japanese ink painting during the late 15th century. Only the black ink of the eye, beak, and legs of the heron provide sharp accents within the predominantly pale tonality.

The painter, Soami, was especially admired for his mastery of ink wash, the technique used almost exclusively in this painting.  Soami served the Ashikaga shogun as one of the doboshu, a special group of advisors on aesthetic matters.  Because of his expertise concerning Chinese works of art, Soami was responsible for the care and classification of the shoguns' extensive collections of Chinese paintings, ceramics, and other antiquities which had been in formation since the 14th century. Although he had a privileged familiarity with this extensive private collection of Chinese antiquities, Soami expressed in his ink paintings a distinctly Japanese sensibility that prefigures the renascence of Japanese aesthetics in the arts of the Momoyama period (1573-1615). The majority of Soami's surviving paintings are landscapes, some of very large scale for sliding doors. This scroll of more intimate scale demonstrates the artist's mastery and control of ink wash and brush techniques as well as his ability to create an emotive image, deeply evocative of stillness and solitude.

Published References
  • Yamane Yuzo. A Study of a Pine-Trees and Crows, A WIllow and Herons by Tohabu Hasegawa. no. 1164 Tokyo, November 1992. .
  • Toyomune Minamoto. Soami ryurozu [White heron in Snow by Soami]. no. 36, March 1972. pp. 63-65, p. 56.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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