In the definitive “Art of the Japanese Book” (1987) Hillier writes: “Seitei was possibly the most refined of the Meiji kacho-e painters… fragile and reticent lines, and colours in delicate nuances… the compositions are often of startling originality”
This is an antique, hand-crafted woodblock print from the original 1890 edition of “Seitei Kacho Gafu Vol.1” published by Okura Magobei, Tokyo
The same print is also held in the collections of the British Museum, the V&A, the Metropolitan Museum of New York and Boston Museum of Fine Art
About the Author
Watanabe Seitei, born Yoshikawa Yoshimata in Edo in 1851 was the first Japanese artist to reside in Europe to study Western painting and lived in Paris between 1878 and 1881.
There is an interesting account in the diary of the art historian Edmond de Goncourt for 28 November 1878 when he described an evening spent in the company of Watanabe Seitei, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet: Seitei demonstrated Japanese brush-and-ink painting and dedicated the picture to Degas.
Degas then took Seitei’s brush and created a gift in return but admitted it was a “miserable sketch” of which he felt “ashamed”. Degas valued Seitei’s picture “Bird on a Branch” and kept it until his death in 1917 when it formed part of his estate.
After returning to Japan, Seitei became well-known for his sensitive kacho-ga (bird & flower) images which utilized Japanese techniques while incorporating some Western sensibilities.
In 1908 he was commissioned to design the cloisonne plaques in the Bird and Flower room of the Akasaka Palace, originally the Crown Prince’s residence. This impressive room accommodates 80 people and is still used to this day for diplomatic and state banqueting occasions.
Throughout his career Seitei received many awards for his work, both in Japan and at international expositions.