Kaiseki Noro Ryu was born into a wealthy merchant family in Wakayama and from an early age pursued studies of neo-Confucianism. During his adolescence he began painting and, in 1760, traveled to Kyoto to study under the great Japanese master of literati painting, Ike Taiga (1723–1776). In 1797, after several formative years away, he returned to Wakayama to serve the regional daimyō (ruler). These interdisciplinary experiences shaped Kaiseki’s aesthetic greatly.
This painting of spring orchids embodies Kaiseki’s insistence on working directly from nature. In a composition that cleverly uses the canonical hanging scroll format, a series of small orchids is depicted hanging from an almost vertical cliff, and the outlines of the rocky landscape have been rendered in a light ink wash. The jagged escarpment also serves as the foundation for the many wild grasses that envelop the orchids, the linear grass stems offering a stark contrast to the soft contours of the orchid blossoms, which are rendered with only a hint of color. This skillful juxtaposition conveys the painter’s innate understanding of his craft, and the composition likely resulted from an inspirational scene he viewed during one of his regular walks through the Kumano Mountains. Because several of his sketches from these journeys survive, as does his book Shihekisai-gawa, Kaiseki’s Edo-period (1615–1868) approaches to painting remain well preserved today.