Seventy-two Peaks Against the Blue Sky

Seventy-two Peaks Against the Blue Sky

青天七十二芙蓉図屏風

1785

Matsumura Goshun

(Japanese, 1752-1811)

Eight-panel folding screen, ink with gold and silver foil on paper

Image: 51.5 x 275.2 cm (20 1/4 x 108 3/8 in.); Overall: 69.6 x 282.4 cm (27 3/8 x 111 3/16 in.); with frame: 72.9 x 285.7 cm (28 11/16 x 112 1/2 in.)

Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1980.28

Description

Unlike many painters of his generation, Goshun began his career with considerable social and economic advantage. Perhaps more significant, his upbringing and temperament helped foster his relationships with teachers, colleagues, and patrons. Apparently he moved with ease from the lively environment of the brothels in Kyoto’s entertainment district to the sedate sessions of poetry composition favored by the elite of Osaka and Kyoto. Whether writing haiku or executing paintings incorporating classical literary themes—Japanese as well as Chinese—his talent was recognized early and found abundant favor. Whether studying Chinese paintings themselves or imported painting manuals, or sketching the landscape around him, he gradually defined a more relaxed compositional structure for his work, one that at times almost becomes impressionistic, as in this small byøbu. The modest dimensions of this folding screen point to its use in the tea ceremony as a low partition in a small tearoom. Yet the scene focuses on the upper realm of an expansive imaginary Chinese landscape formed solely from a linear web of brushstrokes accentuated with groups of dots and small areas of ink washes. The lack of human figures serves to heighten the viewer’s sense of seeing the peaks of a tall mountain from high up in the air rather than from the more customary viewpoint of a traveler in a landscape. Goshun heightens the individuality of this setting and its format by painting on silver and gold foil, creating an alluring surface and deep space in this surprisingly spare vista. The overall effect is to create a sense of color in a painting in which none exists, apart perhaps from the brief, enigmatic inscription on the right panel giving this byøbu its title. Goshun’s acknowledged literary and visual sophistication during this period of his life is encapsulated quietly in this work, which contrasts with his large figural presentations, such as Scenes from Essays in Idleness.

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