|page 4 of 7
How haiga has developed
The exact beginning of haiga seems somewhat obscure. There has not yet been found any concrete evidence in the shape of a painting or school of paintings which would indicate without any reasonable doubt a clear beginning of haiga. One theory goes that haiga was started by Nonoguchi Ryuho (1595-1669), who is thought to have been a pupil of Kano Tannyu (1602-1674). Another theory follows Watanabe Kazan who indicated that monk Shokado (1584-1654), one of the greatest calligraphers of his time and a tea-master, started the genre. Buson and Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) are both well-known for their delightful haiga. Relatively unknown is the fact that Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) also enjoyed this form of art, creating modest and yet enchanting haiga, albeit amateurish, in his last years thanks to Morikawa Kyoriku (1656-1715) who taught him how to paint (draw). What is important is that with Basho, haiga was elevated to a higher level of aesthetic expression just as haiku was elevated by him to a higher level of literary expression. Basho's haiga style followed the teachings of the Kano School, the austere and orthodox official line of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
If we assume that Ryuho started haiga, then, the history of haiga starts roughly from the 17th century (the formative period) when Basho also contributed to the development of the art on the strength of his position in haikai. It is no coincidence that haikai and haiga shared the same formative period. Then enters the maturing and flourishing period of the 18th and early 19th centuries, represented by such greats as Buson Takebe Socho (1761-1814), Ike no ya Taiga (1723-1776) and Buson's disciple Matsumura Gekkei (1752-1811), alias Matsumura Goshun, founder of the important Shijo School. Haiga then moved onward to the early modern period of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) into the present period of diversity after the WW II.
Throughout its development haiga has evolved from, and been influenced by, traditional schools of painting, especially nanga (also known as Bunjin-ga or literati painting). Other influences have come from the Kano School (very strong and extensive influence), Tosa, Shijo, Rinpa, and other yamato-e schools, and last but not least, Zen paintings. However, it is the haiku poets themselves that have given special characteristics to haiga as they have endeavoured to create a new style of painting in its own right. Thus haijin helped to develop haiga and haiga influenced haiku. As haiga drew inspiration from so many different schools and traditions it did not develop as a distinct and separate genre of painting, even though there is something in haiga which is different from any of these other schools and traditions.
Chinese nanga, developed in the climate and landscape along the Yangtze River which were similiar to those of Japan, suited not only to the Japanese aesthetics and sentiment, but also emanated very much from the same sort of spirit, content and mood as haikai. So much so that haiga should probably be regarded as a form of nanga, absorbing some influences from other forms of painting as it developed. Nanga was first introduced to Japan by Itsuzen, the Obaku monk, who came to Nagasaki in 1645 (Shoho 2). Other leading Chinese Nanga artists followed him and spread nanga farther afield in Japan. It is generally believed that Gion Nankai (1676-1751) was the first Japanese nanga painter. Nankai was a scholar and a renowned calligrapher, who also wrote fine Chinese poems. Buson and Taiga are the two giants who brought the Japanese nanga to maturity. In addition, influence of Zen-ga (Zen painting) on haiga has a special and lasting significance, which needs at least a brief mention.
It seems as if it is beginning to be accepted in the West, albeit belatedly, that influence of Zen on haiku has been overplayed and exaggerated to the detriment of true and blaanced development of haiku outside Japan. However, when it comes to Japanese haiga, the influence of Zen and Zen-ga seems more tangible. (Very few Western haiga seem to have reached anywhere near the stage where these distinctions and discernments are practiced or needed).
The Heian Era of Japan (794-1192) saw the flowering and culmination of national haut culture led by the Imperial family, aristocracy in court, and the new samurai class. It was a national art and culture created from the amalgamation of indigenous culture, and what had been imported from China. Elegance, refinement, elitist taste and beauty are some of its characteristics. Interestingly, subsequent periods witnessed the emergence also of styles and ideas which are antithesis to the Heian aesthetics. Two of the most typical examples of these are of course haikai and Zen-inspired arts, including Zen-ga.