The highly unusual, fully half-round shape of this fan places the viewer precisely at the center of the composition, the main lines of its components radiating outwards from that point. The artist’s success in creating naturalistic forms within a convincingly deep pictorial space in a small-scale format is a stunning achievement. Further, the warm-cool color scheme running throughout the painting, arranged in a formalized alternation for abstract rather than merely naturalistic purposes, allows a breath of summer to emanate from the scene.
Buson was born and raised in Osaka. By the age of nineteen he had moved to Edo and after his teacher’s death in 1742, traveled throughout the Kantō and Tōhoku regions. After almost ten years of roving, Buson settled in Kyoto and for three years lived in Buddhist monasteries and was active primarily as a poet creating a most original lyric world but continued to study painting, learning from the treasures of Chinese and Japanese art held in temple collections. Further travels continued to inspire his work and upon his return to Kyoto in 1757, he determined to live as a professional painter, including in his repertoire works in the literati or Nanga school manner. Buson combined his instinct to travel with accepting commissions from various quarters to support himself and his family. More deeply involved than ever in the world of poetry, Buson was considered a leader among the haiku poets of the time and in 1771 he worked together with Ike Taiga (1723-77) to produce an album illustrating the “Ten Conveniences and Ten Pleasures of Rural Living” that is one of the masterworks of later Japanese painting. The present “Mountain Retreat in Summer,” dated to 1773, shares with that album a preference for portraying soft foliage in a casual manner that creates the impression of an intimate relationship between the artist and his subject, predating the more expressionistic works of his later period.
Biographical and critical material on Yosa Buson is voluminous and well-summarized, along with insightful comparative material, in vol. XII of Kaikodo Journal, “Scholarly Premises,” Autumn 1999, pp. 166-167 and 284-288.