Art: Japan's Renaissance

The gray plum tree on the brownish rice paper is twisty and knuckled with age. Plum trees regenerate themselves each year, and here the new sprouts burst like porcupine quills from the bark. The brush strokes have an extraordinary intensity—not so much delicacy as martial precision: one imagines the brush slashing down and up like a sword as it described the pair of sharply angular branches that project to the left of the tree. And so it probably did; for the painter, Kaihō Yūshō (1533-1615) was the son of a warrior family, raised in...

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