Hanabusa Itchō (1652-1724) was born in Settei province near Osaka. His father was a respected physician. At the age of 15, Hanabusa Itchō entered the workshop of Kano Yasonobu in Edo. The Kano school characteristically blended the sharp and edgy brush style taken over from China with the refined and decorative elegance of the Tosa school at the Kyōto imperial court.
It turns out that young Itchō preferred the company of ordinary townspeople to obediently fulfilling imperial orders – which, it seems, he didn’t do so well in the first place; a satirical pun or a mocking posture would always slip into the officially opportune depictions of Kyōto serenity.
The newly emerging class of art patrons who loved to host huge parties at the Sumida river banks soon took a liking to him. Under a pretext – a controversy about the choice of a new brush name -, Itchō left the Kano school. Unfortunately the Shōgun didn’t really like Itchō’s drawing of the Shōgun’s favourite maitresse Asazuma in a boat, considering it to mock his authority. Jokes about how he’d rather cruise around on a boat than rule the country had already been abundant.
So, in 1698, Itchō was exiled to the small island of Miyake. He had to leave his beloved mother Hanafusa behind, the cherished company of his patrons, all of it. It was only because influential friends intervened with the authorities that he was allowed to take his drawing materials, and to continue selling his drawings to Edo.
He painted a lot. He gave himself dark and melancholic pseudonyms (“Hokusō” – “the old man at the Northern window”).
Finally, in 1709, he was granted return to Edo. Allegedly he just happened to watch a butterfly flying around a bush in full bloom when he heard the happy news.
This explains the name he gave himself, “Hanabusa” (flower-bouqet) “Itchō” (butterfly).
After his return to Edo, he founded the Hanabusa school and, it seems, lived happily ever after.
Article about Hanabusa Itchō at artnet.
A few drawings by Hanabusa Itchō at Camp Catatonia.