Kanō Sansetsu – The Old Plum

Kanō Sansetsu (狩野 山雪, 1589–1651) was a Japanese painter also known as Kanō Heishiro. He was born in Hizen Province, Kyūshū, and died in Kyoto.

Sansetsu was apprenticed to Kanō Sanraku, married his daughter, and was adopted by him after the death of Sanraku’s eldest son. Sansetsu became the leader of the Kanō school. He succeeded his adoptive father Kanô Sanraku as the head of the Kyoto Kanô school upon Sanraku’s death in 1635.

Most of Sansetsu’s surviving works are fusuma paintings used as decoration in Buddhist temples. His style is said to have played a role in influencing or inspiring Eccentric painters such as Itô Jakuchû and Soga Shôhaku.

Sansetsu was the chief compiler of the Honchô gashi, a volume generally regarded as the first “complete” history of Japanese painting. The compilation of the volume was continued under Sansetsu’s son Kanô Einô.

Kano School

The Kanō school (狩野派 Kanō-ha) is one of the most famous schools of Japanese painting. The Kanō school of painting was the dominant style of painting from the late 15th century until the Meiji period which began in 1868, by which time the school had divided into many different branches. The Kanō family itself produced a string of major artists over several generations, to which large numbers of unrelated artists trained in workshops of the school can be added. Some artists married into the family and changed their names, and others were adopted. According to the historian of Japanese art Robert Treat Paine, “another family which in direct blood line produced so many men of genius … would be hard to find”.

The school began by reflecting a renewed influence from Chinese painting, but developed a brightly coloured and firmly outlined style for large panels decorating the castles of the nobility which reflected distinctively Japanese traditions, while continuing to produce monochrome brush paintings in Chinese styles. It was supported by the shogunate, effectively representing an official style of art, which “in the 18th century almost monopolized the teaching of painting”. It drew on the Chinese tradition of literati painting by scholar-bureaucrats, but the Kanō painters were firmly professional artists, very generously paid if successful, who received a formal workshop training in the family workshop, in a similar way to European painters of the Renaissance or Baroque. They worked mainly for the nobility, shōguns and emperors, covering a wide range of styles, subjects and formats. Initially innovative, and largely responsible for the new types of painting of the Momoyama period (1573–1614), from the 17th century the artists of the school became increasingly conservative and academic in their approach.

Kanō Einō

Kanō Einō (狩野 永納, 1631–1697) was a Japanese painter of the Kyō-ganō [ja] sub-school of the Kanō school of painting. He became head of the Kyō-ganō upon the death of his father Kanō Sansetsu, and his grandfather was the Kyō-ganō’s founder Kanō Sanraku. Einō compiled the Honchō Gashi (本朝畫史, “Japanese painting history”), the earliest serious art-historical work in Japan.

Einō was born in Kyoto 1631 to Kanō Sansetsu and the daughter of Kanō Sanraku, Take. His father succeeded Sanraku as head of the Kyō-ganō sub-school of Kanō artists who remained in Kyoto after the school relocated to Edo (modern Tokyo) to paint for the Tokugawa shogunate. Einō learned painting from his father and inherited the position of head of the Kyō-gano on his father’s death in 1651.

More than as a painter Einō is remembered as editor of the Honchō Gashi (本朝畫史, “Japanese painting history”). The work is considered the earliest serious art-historical work in Japan and has been a fundamental source for researchers. It provides biographies of over 400 artists from as far back as ancient Japan. Einō completed the Honchō Gashi probably by 1678; a shortened version appeared in 1691 in five woodblock-printed volumes entitled Honchō Gaden (本朝画伝, “Japanese painting traditions”), and the full work was published in 1693. Einō likely reworked material for this book his father had compiled earlier in the century, though the earlier work is only known to have covered a quarter of the artists who appeared in the Honchō Gashi.