Buson painting found after 92 years in limbo

A masterpiece by Yosa Buson (1716-1783), a famous haiku poet and painter in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), has been found 92 years after it went missing. Titled "Shokusando-zu," the work was painted by the artist late in his life.

The whereabouts of the work became unknown after it was included in a monograph of his paintings, "Buson Gashu," published in 1922.

The painting is currently owned by a company in Singapore. An art dealer in Tokyo notified the Miho Museum in Koga, Shiga Prefecture, of its existence.

Nobuo Tsuji, the museum's director and a leading expert on Japanese art history, judged it to be a genuine work after examining the brushwork and signature.

The artwork is 167.5 centimeters high and 98.9 centimeters wide. It is painted with sumi ink and watercolors on a silk screen.

The name "Shokusando" in the title refers to a rocky path traversing the northern part of Sichuan Province, China. The painting presents mountains and other scenery with a sense of perspective and depth, depicting travelers along the path with light brushstrokes.

In the upper righthand corner of the painting, four kanji characters pronounced "Tosei Shain" are written as a signature.

Shain is a name that Buson used in his later years. Tosei is thought to refer to the region where his home village was located. The village is Kemamura in the Higashinari-gori region of Settsu Province. The pair of kanji characters for "Higashinari" can also be pronounced "Tosei." Today, the area is part of the Kemacho district in Miyakojima Ward, Osaka.

A copy of a letter believed to have been written by Buson in 1778 was also found. The letter informed another haiku poet who asked him to paint the work that "Shokusando-zu" had been completed and was being delivered. The document shows that "Shokusando-zu" was completed five years before Buson's death, and is thus a work created late in his life.

Tsuji said: "Though the painting's style is modeled on techniques of expression used in China's monochrome landscape paintings, its representation of the sky, which conveys a coldness, is extraordinary. On the other hand, the human figures are depicted somewhat humorously, as in his haiga paintings." Haiga refers to simple paintings based on the aesthetics of haiku poetry.

"It is a tour de force that tells us Buson put the finishing touches on his work after absorbing various painting techniques," Tsuji said.

The painting will be exhibited in the Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo from March 18 to May 10 next year. From July 4 to Aug. 30, the painting will be on display in the Miho Museum, where The Yomiuri Shimbun will coorganize an exhibition of works by Yosa Buson and Ito Jakuchu, another major painter in the Edo period born in the same year, ahead of the 300th anniversary of their births.