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Yosa Buson

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  • Born: 1716
  • Died: 1783
  • Other Names: 謝春星 (Sha Shunsei)
  • Japanese: 与謝蕪村 (Yosa Buson)

Yosa Buson was a painter in the nanga or bunjinga mode, also known as literati painting, widely regarded today as one of the top literati painters in the Edo period (or at least one of the most famous today). He is equally highly regarded as a poet. In fact, Yosa Buson is his poetry name, or haimyô, while the more Chinese-inspired[1] Sha Shunsei was his art-name, or (号).

Buson made a living by painting, though the literati ideal was one of shunning material wealth, and especially of shunning involvement in the commercial marketplace. He was certainly not the only Japanese literati artist who, in this respect, did not quite adhere to the ideals which Chinese literati artists supposedly embodied more strongly. Still, Buson did much to embody or perform the identity of the literatus, and, for example, often accepted amounts for his work far lower than his initial requests. Timon Screech points out that in one particular instance, he requested the exorbitant price of 1 kanme of silver, an amount equal to 1000 momme, or roughly 17 ryô of gold, but in the end accepted 3 ryô. Three ryô was actually a pretty good deal for Buson, as he worked chiefly in ink on paper (meaning his costs were quite low, compared to those who used color and gold on silk), and as scrolls by painters of his caliber generally went for one to two ryô on average. But, even as he made a good amount on this scroll, he managed to maintain his image of caring little for material gain, and accepting a mere fraction of his original asking price. Screech notes, however, that it is unclear whether such a situation was part of his strategy, or if it represented a "defeat" for him, as we do not know if he might have normally made more for such a work.[2]

References

  1. Though pronounced in the Japanese manner, i.e. Sha Shunsei instead of Xie Chunxing, the notion of having a one-character family name followed by an epithet featuring picturesque characters such as "spring" (春, shun) and "stars" (星, sei) is evocative of the Chinese literati, who favored names such as "Mountain Man of Eight Greats."
  2. Screech, Timon. "Owning Edo-Period Paintings." in Lillehoj, Elizabeth (ed.) Acquisition: Art and Ownership in Edo-Period Japan. Floating World Editions, 2007. p29.
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