Past Exhibition Special Exhibition

Takeuchi Seiho



Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery

About the Exhibition

Born in Kyoto and having studied under Kono Bairei, Takeuchi Seiho (1964–1942) influenced many younger painters including Tsuchida Bakusen as a leading modernizer of the traditional Kyoto style.

While actively incorporating techniques of other schools, Seiho tried to break with old habits in the painting circle by refusing to formally inherit stereotyped motifs and related techniques. Behind his attempts were his travels in Europe to observe the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Having been exposed to numerous works of art in Europe, the painter realized the importance of careful observation from life. However, Seiho’s vision was so broad that he did not introduce Western techniques blindly. Founded in Kyoto in the middle of the Edo period (1600–1868), the Maruyama school attached importance to naturalistic observation. The subsequent Shijo school was characterized by tastefulness with witty and refined brushwork. In the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, however, these styles became more and more formalistic, leaving nothing but stereotyped motifs and techniques to draw them. Building upon the Western technique of observing from life, Seiho tried to unearth the original ideals of the Kyoto tradition in a spirited attempt to create art standing shoulder to shoulder with its Western counterpart.

Presenting 110 pieces including Seiho’s masterpieces, important works and those shown publicly for the first time, together with 60 materials including his sketches, this exhibition provides an overview on the painter’s art to illustrate the foundations of the modern history of Japanese art laid by Seiho.

About the Sections

1.Starting Out as an Artist, 1882-1891

Takeuchi Seiho became a pupil of the Shijo school nihonga artist Kono Bairei (1844-1895), under whose strict discipline, in addition to Shijo-style painting techniques, he also acquired a grounding in Chinese classics and so on. Outside the art school, he also traveled to the Hokuetsu region to do sketches with his master and kept on training by copying old paintings.

As if to demonstrate such studies, Seiho’s works during this period are composed of traditional subjects done in a traditional touch. Among them are styles unimaginable from Seiho’s later works, suggesting how remarkably his artistic career developed from his days as an apprentice to the advanced period.

In the background of such traditional painting and unexpected styles lay a tremendous number of copies of old paintings. The works Seiho copied were not only old paintings belonging to shrines and temples or private collectors but also reduced copies of old paintings done by his teacher Bairei which remained. Content-wise, in some cases, the original can be recognized at once, while, in other cases, it is hard to identify what Seiho copied. Moreover, it was not only works by the Shijo school, to which his teacher Bairei belonged, that he copied. Such wide-ranging studies of old paintings eventually gave rise to a subject of debate and proved an opportunity for Seiho to be spotlighted on as a topic of conversation within the art circles.

Meanwhile, another point that should not be overlooked is that the works are somewhat full of freshness. The atmosphere is different from a painting of the same old subject done automatically in the same old touch. In fact, while doing copies of old paintings, Seiho was habitually enthusiastic about sketching everyday nature such as flowers and birds. The sketches of creatures done during this period concentrate on accurate portrayal of the details so that the texture of even a bird’s feathers or the soft petals of a plant are depicted in fine lines of Sumi and rich coloring. The freshness identifiable in Seiho’s works is the fruit of these sketches. Sketching developed little by little in character and later became the crux of Seiho’s work.

2.From Kyoto to the World, 1892-1908

In 1892 (Meiji 25), Seiho submitted Byoji Fuken (Cat with Kittens) to Kyotoshi Bijutsu Kogeihinten, an exhibition of arts and crafts held in Kyoto. This painting drew many people’s attention as the brushwork of several different schools such as the Maruyama school, the Shijo school, and the Kano school were employed in a single work and Seiho was referred to as “nue-ha (chimerical).” While on the one hand, he was condemned for breaking the conventional rule of painting by mixing different schools’ techniques together, on the other hand, his challenge was anticipated as a sign of the emergence of a new school.

During this period, Seiho worked on a variety of subjects including historical events, contemporary scenes of Kyoto, and skeletons. Among them were many examples indicating that he was clearly aware of the expressions in Western paintings. Seiho was conscious of the existence of Western art from a considerably early stage and held meetings where foreign art literature was read and discussed at his own art school. Furthermore, through also being involved in the artistic textile business in Kyoto, which was looking abroad in order to participate in the International Expositions and secure a foreign market, he deepened his thoughts on the state of Japanese art in Europe.

In 1900 (Meiji 33), Seiho went to Europe to visit the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Though it was a short trip, he came in touch with a lot of Western art in several places. As soon as he returned to Japan, Seiho painted lions and European landscapes in a Western painting-like realistic style, which attracted attention. However, what he came to emphasize most through his experiences in Europe was a blending of portrayal based on observation of the real thing, which was the strong point of Western art, and representation of the true nature of the subject rather than the external shape, which was a forte of traditional painting in Japan.

Seiho endeavored to reconsider the expressions in traditional painting with a broad field of vision aiming to be on a par with Western art. This idea also provided an impetus to the artists in Kyoto in those days. Seiho, who was one of the young artists in Kyoto that was interested in Western art, grew to become the driving force of the art circles with his eyes fixed on the world.

3.A Period of New Attempts, 1909-1926

In this period, Seiho had already established a standing in the art circles as a teacher at the art school, proprietor of the private art school Chikujokai, where he had many pupils, and judge at the Bunten (Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition), which began in 1907 (Meiji 40). Tsuchida Bakusen and other pupils also came to the fore and when they formed Kokuga Sosaku Kyokai in 1918 (Taisho 7), Seiho became advisor to that group.

Even though Seiho was now in a position watching over the efforts made by his juniors, he did not fail to eagerly study his own new expressions. For example, regarding the representation of animals, which he had always been good at, he was not satisfied at simply depicting the external shape or texture. He grasped the character of the individual animals such as their ferocity, the forcefulness of their movement, or their alertness towards human beings and tried to express such features in a momentary movement made by those animals.

As for landscape paintings, he created works that were neither the conventional tradition of representing hills and waters nor scenery expressions employing Western painting-like perspective, which he had acquired after visiting Europe. Seiho traveled to China twice from 1920 (Taisho 9) and these trips triggered a deepening in his landscape paintings from the point of view of subject and that of sense of coloring.

It should not be overlooked that though for a brief time, he studied figure painting during this period. He tried to reveal the form-wise most beautiful instant of a person from a sequence of movements, to capture a person’s feelings in a momentary gesture, or represent a three-dimensional illusion of human figures on the two-dimensional plane of a ceiling in a building. The subjects were human figures, but to Seiho, they were more than figure paintings. Topics leading to expression in general were integrated in this series of studies.

4.In Search of a New Field, 1927-1942

In the Showa period, Seiho often became indisposed and in 1931 (Showa 6), he went to Yugawara for a change of air. Once he recovered his health, he worked even more enthusiastically than before by undertaking paintings for the walls and fusuma (sliding doors) of Higashi-Honganji. As Yugawara suited him, he moved his base there and continued painting until his death by coming and going between Yugawara and Kyoto.

During this period, Seiho captured his subject swiftly and accurately in a touch that had become all the more refined. Looking at his sketchbooks, unlike the detailed sketching of the subject he did in the old days, in many cases, the movement and volume of the subject are captured broadly in speedy lines. He also came to do numerous works in which his eyes were cast warmly on small animals living in accord with the changes of the seasons. Needless to say, he did not fail to continue research on expression and it is noteworthy that, even in his later years, he produced experimental works such as, for example, a case in which he represented the glow of the sunlight in gold leaf.

Seiho’s work consistently began from sketches based on observation of the real thing. However, upon detailed observation of his works, we notice that from when he began sketching to the actual painting, at each stage of production, he picked and chose a variety of elements and that the way he selected changed as he grew older. This change was no other than the transition of Seiho’s artistic style. In his later years, Seiho sometimes worked on a subject he had painted in his young days again. However, the expression was never the same as the old days. His volition to constantly capture the subject with a new eye and represent that in his picture was what gave him the strength to refuse adhering to a single expression and continue, even in his later years, opening up expressions rich in variety.

Hours & Admissions


Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery




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


*Closed on Mondays (except September 16, 23 and October 14), September 17 and 24, 2013


Day ticket (Group of 20 persons or more)
Adults: ¥1,300 (900)
College / University students: ¥900 (600)
High school students: ¥400 (200)

*All prices include tax.
*Middle school age and under 15 are free of charge.
*Including the admission fee for MOMAT Collection.
*Persons with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.


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Traveling to

Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art (October 22-December 1, 2013)

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