Pine trees by the shore presents a vibrant scene of horses and sailing craft among pine trees on the bank of an inlet. A long-established theme in Japanese painting, the earliest surviving screen showing pine trees by the shore is from the fifteenth century, and it is the Muromachi period with which this subject is most closely associated. Few Muromachi-period screens survive, and to have an intact pair of screens from the sixteenth century is extremely rare. Usually commissioned by wealthy patrons, Japanese screens function as integral parts of interior space, and are designed as room dividers and objects of beauty.
Japanese folding screens are most often read from right to left. Here, the activity at the far ends of the screen is balanced by the tranquillity of the central panels, which feature twisted pines and low huts. It is likely that the huts are for heating and evaporating seawater in order to extract salt. The right screen shows horses galloping into the picture, and then quietening with each panel – by the fourth panel they are reclining. On the left screen, a small group of intricately painted boats sails into the scene. The crew members of two of the vessels are shown struggling with full sails, while another craft heads to shore, probably returning from a fishing expedition. In the distance larger and grander buildings nestle in a grove of trees.
Beneath clouds and undulating mountains, a stretch of fast-flowing water moves across both screens. Painted in blue and white mineral colour, and accented with mica and gold dust, the water appears to sparkle through the pines. The gilding on the screens has been applied to particular areas to create an effect of richness and varied textures. The sky, for instance, is ornamented with gold leaf glitter and torn pieces of gold, while the clouds and much of the ground were constructed using rectangular sheets of gold leaf.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008