Herb Gatherer in the Mountains
Matsumura Goshun 松村呉春 Japanese
Not on view
A gray-bearded man in a gray cloak and cape, mounted on a on a chestnut horse, makes his way along a mountain path. Enormous rocks, rendered in light pink and blue washes, dominate the image, connoting that the man is deep in the mountains. Along the diagonal path, the artist painted dense and rhythmic curves in light ink and red on washes of ink and red to represent withered grasses. A bare tree on which vines of ivy with red leaves climb stands near a stream in the background, signaling that the setting is a desolate, late autumn day. Images of recluses living in remote mountains are a recurring theme in East Asian literature and art. Here, the subject can be imagined to be a scholar-doctor searching for medical herbs, which is often associated with the Han-dynasty legend of Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao, two scholars who went in search of herbs in the sacred Mount Tiantai and encountered immortals.
The artist Matsumura Goshun, one of the most accomplished painters of later eighteenth to early nineteenth-century Japan, founded the Shijō school. He began his artistic career as a close disciple of Yosa Buson (1716–1783), the renowned Nanga painter and haiku poet. Goshun was deeply indebted to Buson’s painting style, as evidenced by this work. For instance, a very similar horse-riding herb gatherer is also featured in Buson's Herb Gatherers in the Mountains currently on long-term loan to The Met from the Fishbein-Bender Collection (L.2019.10.1a–c, which features a setting of deep mountains with Buson's punctilious brushwork. Although the two paintings share a similar central figure, Goshun's painting does not show any intention of slavishly copying his teacher’s work; instead, it is a piece that pays tribute to his teacher by replicating his iconic style. In Buson's original composition, the herb gatherer on a horse is followed by a young assistant on foot. The shallow foreground space features a cliff with a green pine tree, but no view into the distance; the level path suggests they have yet to enter the mountains or perhaps they are already leaving the mountain behind. Goshun's painting only features a horse-riding figure without a companion. The upward tilt of the path, descending stream, and rugged landscape all suggest that the figure has already entered the hills; the brown foliage implies the season is autumn. Comparing these two paintings, Goshun's herb gatherer is just like himself artist after the death of Buson in 1783––unlike Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao, who searched for herbs together, he is all alone, continuing his journey as an artist without a mentor.
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