Signature on each panel: Gyokujun; seal on each panel: Gyokujun
Ōmi Hakkei (The Eight Views of Ōmi Province) are a series of scenes owing their origins to the Chinese Xiaoxiang Bajing (The Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang), named for the Xiang River and its tributary the Xiao that empty into Lake Dongting in Hunan Province. Already a popular painting subject in Japan during the Muromachi period (1336 –1568), the Chinese set was later often replaced by a series of analogous Japanese views around the southern part of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake a few miles east of Kyoto. The themes of the Chinese originals were retained so that, for example, Evening Glow at the Fishing Village becomes Evening Glow at Seta, a site known for its distinctive long, low bridge. The titles of the remaining views depicted on this screen, reading from right to left, are: Sunset Sky at Awazu, Autumn Moon at Ishiyama, Returning Sailboats at Yabase, Evening Bell at Miidera, Night Rain at Karasaki, Descending Geese at Katata, and Lingering Snow on Mount Hira.
The Eight Views of Ōmi Province are popularly associated in the foreign view of Japanese art with the numerous woodblock-print versions that were produced by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 –1858) and his followers, but this painted version by Hasegawa Gyokujun, essentially a series of eight paintings in hanging-scroll format mounted as a screen, reminds us of the set’s origins in Chinese art of the eleventh century. The choice of a tall, vertical shape allowed the artist to present the scenes in a version of traditional Chinese perspective, where “higher up” means “further away,” modified here and there by a more Western-inspired approach to the handling of pictorial depth as in the depiction of the Seta Bridge. Making liberal use of atmospheric washes—a mark of his training in the Shijō style that dominated Kyoto painting during the nineteenth century—and confining himself to ink with only a few occasional touches of slight color, Gyokujun effects a distinctive synthesis of approaches to landscape drawn from both Asian and European traditions.
Born to a family of painters, Hasegawa Gyokujun was first taught by his father, the famous Shijō-school artist Hasegawa Gyokuhō (1822 –1879). In 1881 he became a committee member, along with Takeuchi Seihō and other artists, of the Seinen Sakka Konshin Kurabu (Young Painter Support Club) and served as a judge at exhibitions held by the Kyōto Seinen Kaiga Kyōshinkai (Kyoto Youth Painting Support Group). He won prizes at several national and international expositions, including the Chicago Columbian World’s Fair (1893), the Fourth National Industrial Exposition (1895), and the first exhibition of the Nihon Kaiga Kyōkai (Japan Painting Association). After a spell working as an art teacher at elementary schools, in 1907 he moved to Ōtsu on the southwest shore of Lake Biwa where he taught at the Women’s Vocational School, but returned to Kyoto after the start of the Taisho era. It is likely that the present screen was created during his time in Ōtsu.