Art

First, there was Matsumura Goshun

by Matthew Larking

Contributing Writer

Resurgent interest in Edo Period (1603-1868) painting since the 1980s has usually focused on eccentric painters who bucked the orthodoxy, such as Jakuchu, Shohaku and Rosetsu. These painters tended to have had either no successors to carry on their styles, or none of note, and so the celebration of idiosyncrasy has tended to obscure the achievements of contemporaneous painters producing something more lasting. “Road to Shijo School: Focus on Go Shun and Related Painters” at the Otani Memorial Art Museum, Nishinomiya City, is a welcome reparative.

Matsumura Goshun, also known as Gekkei (1752-1811), was born into a well-to-do Kyoto family headed by Matsumura Kazaemon, a senior supervisor in the Kyoto mint. Studying first with Onishi Suigetsu (active in the mid-late 18th century) and then with the eminent Yosa Buson (1716-84) from 1772, he learned from the latter the indigenized forms of Chinese literati painting (bunjinga, also known as southern painting or nanga) and haiku. Thereafter Goshun produced Buson-type literati landscapes, like “Rainforest, Mountain Village, Continuous Sail” (1780), and brushed haiga paintings combining verse, such as “Izu no Mishima” (c. 1772-81).

Losing his wife and father in 1781, Goshun left Kyoto for Ikeda in Settsu, Osaka, where he lived above the branch store of a Kyoto kimono purveyor. As if beginning his life anew, he took both the artist’s name Goshun in 1782 and the tonsure. He still produced Buson-esque literati landscapes, such as the Important Cultural Property “Egrets, Willows and Birds” (c. 1782-87), but he also created much more sensuous atmospheric effects, as can be seen in “Walking Through Winter Woods” (c. 1782-87).

Returning to Kyoto in 1789, Goshun sought to reintegrate himself within the city’s painting circles. He did this by seeking the tutelage of Maruyama Okyo (1733-95), who was among the most famous painters of his day for emphasizing a heightened Western realism resulting from sketching from life (shasei), rather than copying older master examples. Goshun, however, often copied Okyo’s finished paintings instead of employing his sketching-from-life method. His own economical depictions of limited motifs in works like “Taro Field” (c. 1796-1801) are probably the closest Goshun came to Okyo in philosophy in the present exhibition.

Goshun next combined being a practitioner of two separate styles: Buson’s literati painting and Okyo’s visual realism (Maruyama school). He usually only fused the two in subtle ways and a good example of this mature, and historically important, style, is found in the paired paintings of winter and summer landscapes, “Rain in the Valley/Pond With Snow” (c. 1796-98).

When Okyo passed away in 1795, Goshun started his own Shijo school, named for the central Kyoto location where he and his students established their studios. Subsequent sections in the exhibition are concerned with Goshun’s three major disciples, his younger brother, Keibun (1779-1843), Shibata Gito (1780-1819), and Okamoto Toyohiko (1773-1845), in addition to a few lesser-known Osaka-based Shijo school painters like Nishiyama Hoen (1804-67).

It was through Goshun’s student Okamoto, who taught Shiokawa Bunrin (1808-77), who tutored Kono Bairei (1844-95), who mentored Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942), that the Kyoto-based traditions of literati painting and realism were passed down. The latter two figures were the major ones responsible for defining the modern tradition of Japanese painting (nihonga) in later 19th century/early 20th-century Kyoto, hence the reverence for Goshun.

“Road to Shijo School: Focus on Go Shun and Related Painters” at the Otani Memorial Art Museum, Nishinomiya City, runs until May 12; ¥800. For more information, visit otanimuseum.jp.

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