In the first of these two articles about the history of European-style painting in Japan during the Meiji Renaissance, I showed the paintings of some of those who developed European styles. This article concludes my account, opening with perhaps the greatest of all these artists, Kuroda Seiki.
Viscount Kuroda Seiki (黒田 清輝) (Kuroda Kiyoteru) (1866-1924) was the son of a samurai in Kagoshima (in the far south-west of Japan), moved to Tokyo, where he first learned English, then switched to French. He went to Paris in 1884 to study law, being supported by his brother-in-law, a member of the Japanese diplomatic mission in France. However, after two years there he changed to study painting in the atelier of Raphael Collin, where he met Kume Keiichirō, also a student of Collin’s; together they explored plein air painting. In 1890 he moved to the artists’ colony at Grez-sur-Loing, south of Paris.
Returning to Paris in 1893, he painted Morning Toilette (destroyed during World War Two), the first painting of a nude to be shown in public in Japan. He then returned to Japan where he started painting Japanese subjects in his Impressionist style. By introducing impressionist light and colour to yōga painting, in what was known as ‘Southern School’ or murasaki (violet), he was a major influence in developing it from its Barbizon style. He transformed Yamamoto Hōsui’s Seikōkan academy into the Tenshin Dōjō.
Morning Toilette caused uproar when it was first exhibited in Kyoto in 1895, as did his other paintings shown at the yōga salon later that year. The following year, together with Kume Keiichirō, he formed a new group known as the Hakubakai (‘The White Horse Society’), to promote yōga painting in its series of thirteen exhibitions until it dissolved in 1911.
He was appointed director of a new department of Western Painting at the forerunner of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
His triptych of nudes Wisdom Impression Sentiment (before 1898) won a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and in 1910 he was appointed an Imperial Court painter.
Kume Keiichirō (久米 桂一郎) (1866-1934) was born in Saga (then known as Hizen) in the far west of Japan, and went to Paris, where he studied in the atelier of Raphael Collin alongside his friend Kuroda Seiki, and in the Académie Colarossi. He spent periods painting in Barcelona and Île-de-Bréhat.
He returned to Japan in 1893, where he worked with Kuroda and the Hakubakai to modernise Japanese painting, and was appointed a professor in Kuroda’s new department in Tokyo.
Although Fujishima Takeji (藤島 武二) (1867-1943) started learning nihonga painting, he became attracted to yōga style, and became a pupil of Yamamoto Hōsui. Kuroda Seiki attracted him to teach at the Tokyo Art School, and he became a member of the Hakubakai. His style progressively diverged from that of Kuroda, and changed more markedly after he spent five years in France and Italy. When in France he studied under Fernand Cormon rather than Collin, then learned portraiture under Carolus-Duran in Rome, where he painted this well-known work, Black Fan (黒扇) (1908-9). Carolus-Duran is best-known as the teacher of John Singer Sargent.
When he returned to Japan in 1910, he was appointed a professor at the Tokyo Art School, and was one of the first to receive the Order of Culture in recognition of his achievements.
After studying as a special student at the Tokyo Art School from 1900, Shigeru Aoki (青木 繁) (1882-1911) developed a Romantic style during his brief career, which ended in his death at the age of 28 from tuberculosis.
Paradise Under the Sea (わだつみのいろこの宮) (1907) is based on a legend from the Nihon Shoki, in which Yama Sachihiko, a hunter, borrows his brother’s fishing gear to go to sea. When he descends into the sea in search of a lost hook, he meets and marries Toyotama-hime, Princess of Rich Jewels. This painting depicts Yama Sachihiko (top) looking down from a sacred tree and falling in love with Toyotama-hime (left).
More traditional painting, or nihonga, didn’t die out.
Gyoshu Hayami (速水 御舟) (1894-1935) was apprenticed in traditional painting techniques at the age of 15, and his talent was quickly recognised. He became a founding member of the Japan Fine Arts Academy, which was restricted to nihonga style. Village in Shugakuin (1918) shows his skills working in traditional ink and colour on silk.
Later in his career he became more realist, and even tended towards Symbolism before his sudden death from typhoid fever at the age of only 40.
Hirafuku Hyakusui (1877-1933), the son of a nihonga painter, trained at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, where he retained that style, even to the end of his career in Haruyama (1933).
At the end of the nineteenth century there had been bitter political battles between the two factions, with the vociferous Ernest F Fenollosa standing firm in his support for nihonga style. Official reconciliation came in the form of the Bunten in 1907, which contained both nihonga and yōga sections, and sculpture. More radical modernists felt that the Bunten had halted the pace of progress, and in 1914 they formed Nikakai to support their avant garde.
Internally, Japanese art historians such as Dōshin Satō recognise the importance of yōga painting, and to a degree its appearance marks the start of modern Japanese art history. However, in the West the situation remains that extolled by Fenollosa, in which the only representation of art in Japan since 1800 is that of Ukiyo-e, and yōga painting is ignored as being of no interest.
Commercial interests were also seeking to increase the value of art exports from Japan. There was no shortage of traditional painting and other art, which at the time wasn’t highly valued in Japan. However, there was a Western market which seemed prepared to pay considerable sums of dollars and other desirable currencies in return for paintings and other works which hadn’t even been properly catalogued. For a long time, the best (and best-studied) collections of Japanese art were those in the West.
Many of those involved in Japanese art at the time had also built large personal collections of traditional Japanese art, which at the premium prices being paid in the West for such objects, were becoming very valuable. Fenollosa’s glitteringly successful career, a series of books, and his large personal collection were all heavily dependent on the suppression of the true history of art in Japan since 1800.
Charles Goddard Weld, a rich Bostonian, purchased Fenollosa’s huge collection, which he then donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It remains one of the largest such collections outside Japan, but permanently deprives Japanese people of being able to enjoy seeing their own artistic and cultural history in Japanese museums.
Minoru Harada (1974) Meiji Western Painting, Arts of Japan vol 6, Weatherhill/Shibundo. ISBN 0 8348 2708 5.
Dōshin Satō tr Hiroshi Nara (1999, 2011) Modern Japanese Art and the Meiji State. The Politics of Beauty, the Getty Research Institute. ISBN 978 1 606 06059 9.
Screech T (2002) The Lens within the Heart. The Western Scientific Gaze and Popular Imagery in Later Edo Japan, University of Hawai’i Press. ISBN 978 0 824 82594 2.
There are a few affordable Japanese accounts of some of these artists, including a small collection of paintings by Kuroda Seiki, published by Shinchosha (1997), ISBN 978 4 10 601547 2. However the entire book – even the dates – are in Japanese script.