Past Exhibition Special Exhibition

Kikkawa Reika : An Explorer for Lines in Modern Times



Special Exhibition Gallery (1F)

About the Exhibition

Perhaps there are not so many people that know the name Kikkawa Reika (1875-1929) nowadays.

Reika was born in Yushima, Tokyo. After learning ukiyo-e and painting of the Kano school, influenced by Matsubara Sukehisa, who was a scholar of practices in ancient court and samurai families, he looked up to Reizei Tamechika, an artist of the Revived Yamato-e school in the last days of the Tokugawa regime, and studied yamato-e. Even though he became known in the art world having formed Kinrei-sha together with Kaburaki Kiyokata, Hirafuku Hyakusui, and others in 1916, he kept away from large exhibitions such as the Teiten and maintained an attitude of his own in exploring pictorial representation.

To describe Reika’s works, one might say they are a world of graceful and limpid line drawings. Basing his lines on that of yamato-e, he studied classical art of the Orient extensively in pursuit of the beauty of line drawing and restored pictorial representation featuring lines in modern times.

Being very different from glamorous exhibition art, Reika’s art may seem unique as modern art. However, even without mentioning the revival of Rimpa and nanga, his efforts, which brought about a distinctive style of painting based on classical art, may, in a certain sense, be regarded a symbol of modern art.

If the artists who studied line drawing at the beginning of the Showa period were to be classified collectively, Reika would no doubt be identified as one of the most important artists among them.
It is approximately thirty years since the last retrospective of works by Kikkawa Reika was held. Having surveyed over 400 works beforehand, here, we selected approximately 100 finished works and studies in an attempt to re-evaluate this artist. In Reika’s own words, “the ideal of proper tradition is restoration and, at the same time, the future.” Likewise, we hope that this exhibition will provide powerful impetus for today’s artistic expressions, too.

About the Sections

1.The Period of Groping

Reika began by learning ukiyo-e and then painting of the Kano school. Around 1895, he studied under Matsubara Sukehisa. Matsubara was a scholar of practices in ancient court and samurai families who served as a court judge. As regards painting, Matsubara esteemed Reizei Tamechika of the Revived Yamato-e school in the last days of the Tokugawa regime. Influenced by Matsubara, Reika looked up to Tamechika as his model and strived to copy paintings by Tamechika. Meanwhile, through Matsubara, Reika made new acquaintances and learnt yamato-e from Yamana Tsurayoshi, joined groups such as Rekishi Fuzokuga-kai and Kokufu-kai founded by Kobori Tomoto and others, Kokufuga-kai founded by Otsubo Masayoshi and others, and Ugo-kai founded by Kaburaki Kiyokata and others.

What Reika painted during this period were mainly historical genre paintings based on accurate depiction of the human body, an aptitude he cultivated by sketching models dressed in period costumes at Rekishi Fuzokuga-kai and other meetings, and rough sketches done with brush and India ink, which originated in his research on Tamechika. Rather than appealing to the art circles, he endeavored to deepen his own research and learning. As a result, in his thirties, he already possessed the presence of a “bunjin (man of letters).”

2.The Kinrei-sha Period

In April 1916, Taguchi Kikutei, who presided over Nihon Bijutsu Gakuin, founded a group named Kinrei-sha. Reika became a member of this group together with Yuki Somei, Hirafuku Hyakusui, Kaburaki Kiyokata, and Matsuoka Eikyu. This was when Reika had already turned 41 years old.

Kinrei-sha made it a principle for each member to research freely. Besides organizing lectures, from the year after their formation, they held exhibitions as opportunities to present the fruit of their studies. From around this time, he sought romantic subject matters in classical literature and legends of Japan and China and confidently explored the beauty of line drawing. The calm, fine lines which continue rhythmically with speed and are a feature of Reika’s style in his later years reached the level of perfection during this period.

It was thanks to Kinrei-sha, where there was no worry about screening or appealing to the taste of the general public, that Reika was able to make remarkable progress in his unparalleled studies and work freely on monumental works. Whether Reika liked it or not, the Kinrei-sha period, which lasted for less than seven years, raised him to a hero of the art world, extended his supporters, and significantly changed his life as an artist.

3.The Period of Ripening

When Kinrei-sha dissolved in 1922, although Reika had not yet submitted any works, he had already been recommended by the Teiten (Imperial Fine Arts Academy Exhibition) and become a judge. In addition to his achievements at Kinrei-sha, his critiques and reviews had probably been rated highly. While, on the one hand, after thorough preparation, Reika presented a large work done in ink and wash and entitled “Profound Grief” from the Poem by Qu Yuan to the Teiten held in 1926, on the other hand, he produced one after another work painted in hurried taste and inscribed in kana. Maintaining that “the ideal of proper tradition is restoration and, at the same time, the future,” Reika pursued the unification of restored tradition and contemporary ideals. At this stage, he reached a limpid and refined state of mind as an artist.

This chapter covers Reika’s works from 1923 to 1929, the year he died. They are divided into three themes, namely works derived from Chinese tales, those derived from Japanese tales, and Buddhist paintings. Through them, we shall examine the maturity of Reika’s art, which reached the extreme of proud independence.

Hours & Admissions


Special Exhibition Gallery (1F)




10:00-17:00 (Friday is 10:00-20:00)
*Last admission is 30 minutes before closing.


Closed on Mondays (except July 16, 2012), July 17, 2012


Adults: ¥850 (600)
College and university students: ¥450 (250)

*All prices include tax.
*Including the admission fee for Photography Today 4 and Permanent Collection.
*Prices in parentheses are for groups of more than 20 persons.
*Free for high school students and under 18.
*Persons with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.

Free Admission on Your Birthday! (In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Museum)

From February 3, 2012 to January 14, 2013, on your birthday you are admitted free to all the galleries, including the Main Building and the Crafts Gallery. Please present an ID showing your birth date at the ticket office.


The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo


Asahi Beer Arts Foundation
The Kao Foundation for Arts and Science
The Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Cultural Foundation

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