July 3 to August 25 2013
*There will be an exhibition change during the course of exhibition
How many people are there who can name a single representative work when they hear the name of the late Edo painter Tani Buncho?
Tani Buncho, whose painting style was likened to the Hasshu Kengaku (the syncretic study of all eight schools of Buddhist learning), was so greedy for knowledge that he studied the works of the Japanese Kano, Tosa, and Maruyama-Shijo schools as well as Chinese and Western-style painting. His style does not, therefore, lend itself to any single definition. It represents in the truest sense a chaos of forms. In the enormous variety of stylistic influences that shaped Buncho’s work, we can see his enormous energy.
Buncho was around the age of ten when he began his studies with Kato Bunrei (1706-1782). Bunrei was a disciple of Chikanobu, the third-generation heir to the Kobikicho Kano school, and a painter who carried on the orthodox Kano school tradition. Bunrei’s style displayed the rough, violent brushwork frequently seen in Kano school work from this period, a characteristic that influenced the work of Buncho’s early period. Then, when Buncho was around the age of seventeen or eighteen, he began studying with Watanabe Gentai (1749 – 1822), a disciple of Nakayama Koyo. Gentai’s style was an eclectic blend of the Chinese Nanpin school with Southern and Northern Song influences and became the foundation of Buncho’s Nanpin-like bird-and-flower paintings and his landscapes, which like his teacher’s reflected an eclectic mix of Southern and Northern Song influences. It was after being exposed to this diverse range of styles, while in his salad days as a painter, that Buncho went on to extend his experiments into a broad range of painting domains.
In 1788, Buncho entered the service of Tayasu family, one of the gosankyo, a senior cadet branch of the Tokugawa family. Then, in 1792, Buncho became an attendant serving Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1829), a chief senior councilor to the Shogun. Sadanobu, who was the son of Tayasu Munetake*, was appointed senior councillor after succeeding his father as the lord of the Shirakawa domain. In 1793, Buncho accompanied Sadanobu on an inspection tour of the Edo coastline, during which he was responsible for sketching the scenery of the places that they visited. The landscape paintings he produced, based on those sketches, used multiple colors to convey an accurate perspective and sense of depth in the landscapes he depicted, the result of his study of Western-style painting. In 1796, Buncho was ordered by Sadanobu to investigate cultural assets that had been handed down in ancient temples and shrines and old houses throughout Japan. The sketches and records from this investigation were published in a series of 85 volumes titled Shuko-jusshu. The experience of sketching so many famous subjects strongly influenced Buncho’s painting.
* A son of the eighth Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune.
Matsudaira Sadanobu was not only involved in recording and classifying ancient cultural treasures. He went a step further to promote the completion of those that had been lacking. The Illustrated Legends of Ishiyama-dera was intended to be a reproduction of a set of seven scrolls relating the legends of the Ishiyama-dera temple produced during the Shocho period (1324-1326). By the Edo period, however, only the text, but not the images, of two scrolls, No. 6 and No. 7, survived. In 1805, Sadanobu responded to a strong plea from Sonken, the abbot of Ishiyama-dera, and had Buncho complete them. Recently, the copies of the Illustrated Legends of Ishiyama-dera produced by Buncho have become a part of the Suntory Museum of Art’s collection, which are now being shown for the first time since restoration, we glimpse Buncho’s determination to complement the originals without adding any personal touches of his own.
Another indispensable element when discussing Buncho is the breadth of his personal network. When he visited Osaka during the investigations for the Shuko-jusshu, he met Kimura Kenkado, the central figure in a large network of cultured individuals. Buncho later painted a portrait of Kenkado, and continued friendly exchanges with him until Kenkado’s death. He also became friends with the painter Sakai Hoitsu, the comic poet and dramatist Oota Nanpo, and the dramatist Santo Kyoden, with whom he frequently worked together on joint projects. Buncho was also renowned as an educator. His many students included Watanabe Kazan. The breadth and diversity of Buncho’s personal network of friends is evidence of his charisma.
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