Over the weekend, I went to see the big show on at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, the work of Modern Japanese Painting giant Takeuchi Seiho (竹内栖鳳). They have two shows on simultaneously, one showing his paintings and a second showing his amazing sketches and underdrawings.

It was AMAZING!! I’m finding this more and more recently but old Japanese Paintings (nihonga) which look kind of same-same and a bit bland in books and catalogues are something else entirely when you see them in real life. 

For one thing, it’s the sheer SCALE of these works! They are huge! You can’t compare standing in a corner of the library looking at a small reproduction of a Lion painting in book to being face to face with an enormous painting of a Lion on a gold leaf covered folding screen. 

Not just any Lion, a HUGE lion! This screen was over 2 metres tall. circa 1901
Another massive screen. Actually this was a pair of screens. Elephant 1904.

Another thing which simply doesn’t translate in a book is the level of detail. That’s something I really enjoy about Nihonga; whilst paintings can appear to be abstract upscaled versions of smaller paintings, they almost always incorporate some areas of intricate detail. This large folding screen painting of deer was just such an example. Upon closer inspection, their fur is so realistic! Fluffy deer!

Young Deer Gathering  1924.
hard to see but they are oh so fluffy

Takeuchi Seiho lived from 1864-1942. In 1900 he travelled to Paris and it’s interesting to see the way this influenced some of his artwork. I thought this pair of paintings was unusual, “Historic Spot of Rome, 1903″ because the sense of perspective and the realistic depiction of space appears very western. Also the subject matter is obviously Roman building ruins whilst the materials and format he used remained very traditionally Japanese.

Historic Spot of Rome, 1903″
Takeuchi also often used birds as motifs in his paintings and I thought they were really dynamic. He managed to depict them true to life, in the sense that he did piles and piles of sketches and drew them anatomically correctly but painted them with a looseness and energy too. 
Fighting Cocks
Detail of Sparrows in the Snow. 

My favourite work in the exhibition was this painting below, 秋興 or “The pleasantness of Autumn” from 1927. For starters, it uses colours very similar to my most recent artwork; this beige and vibrant blue-green. It’s an unusual composition to have the ducks sort of in the centre and then lotus leaves coming in from the bottom and the top, hiding the birds in places.

“The Pleasantness of Autumn” 1927

Takeuchi was so prolific that they are splitting the exhibition into two sessions. I will have to go again in the second half!

 You can read more about Takeuchi Seiho and his life here