Sei Shonagon

Sei Shōnagon, image taken from Wikipedia

Few things are more amusing than the lists of things that were hip and cool (or not) as written by Sei Shonagon.

This moody and sophisticated 10 century (!) Japanese writer and court lady knew a thing or two about living with grace and style (though she was sometimes too clever for her own good). The following writings are taken from her so called “Pillow Book” (these were really a bunch of manuscripts that she wrote for about ten years, then many years after her death they were compiled as a book) – Translated by Ivan Morris.

Elegant things
A white coat worn over a violet waist coat.
Duck eggs.
Shaved ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl.
A rosary of rock crystal.
Wisteria blossoms. Plum blossoms covered with snow.
A pretty child eating strawberries.

And here are some of her appreciations on painting:

Things That Lose by Being Painted
Pinks, cherry blossoms, yellow roses. Men or women who are praised in romances as being
beautiful.

Things That Gain by Being Painted
Pines. Autumn fields. Mountain villages and paths. Cranes and deer. A very cold winter scene; an unspeakably hot summer scene.

It kind of reminded me of a painting Van Gogh did when he stayed at the Saint Paul asylum, “View of the asylum with a pine tree”. He wrote about it to his brother Theo: “I’ve also done a canvas for Mr Peyron, a view of the house with a tall pine tree.” (translation taken from here)

Maybe I made the association not only because of the trees themselves but also since he was a big fan of Japanese prints. Van Gogh even had paintings in the style of some of the Japanese artists he loved:

Van Gogh – La courtisane (after Eisen) Image taken from Wikipedia

Van Gogh the blooming plumtree (after Hiroshige)- Image taken from Wikipedia

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