May 03, 2006

KYŌSAI [communicated]

May 18, 1889, The Japan Weekly Mail, pp.477-479
KYŌSAI [communicated] [by Josiah Conder]

“ KAWANABE KYŌSAI died on the evening of the 26th ultimo. In him Japan has lost a great painter, undoubtedly the most talented of his time. What the studied writings of the polished author are to the inspired uttering of the born orator, such were the most successful works of other painters of his day compared with the marvelous conceptions and vigorous creations of this powerful artist.
A patient student of nature and reverential copyist of all that was worthy in the works of the past, his own productions always bore the impress of originality and genius. Of KYŌSAI it may be truly said that from birth to death he was a devoted servant of the painter's art. His first infant efforts with the brush were made with nature as his model.
Three days before he died the desire to paint once more seized him irresistibly, and he sketched upon the paper slide behind his bed a weird outline of his own emaciated from bent and tottering as he stood to paint, and suffering from the symptoms of his fatal disease. A few straight lines below the knees, suggesting too plainly the square shell in which he was soon to be enclosed, showed that he knew well this sketch would be his last.Heartrending and horrible, shaky and imperfect, these touches contain some of the genius of KYŌSAI. In their own weird way they tell the story of his untimely death: and where in the history of all art has such a story been so briefly, and strangely expressed? But a short time before his spirit departed, and after he had been barely able to utter a few feeble words to his wife and children, with an agonizing cry and almost supper natural effort he called for his old kyoji-ya, and gave him instructions about the mount of one of his latest works. Thus his last despairing struggle was that of severance from the art he loved.[・・・]

From force of education a follower of the methods and many of the conventions of his native art as practiced by his great predecessors, KYŌSAI never considered that this art had attained its final limits. He regarded with unlimited respect the scientific knowledge of anatomical form, perspective and sciography revealed to him in foreign works and the more realistic developments of nature painting and landscape as developed in the West. To him there always existed a great El Dorado of art beyond the limit of the lights into which he was born and within the radius of which his own opportunities compelled him to work.
In the rules which he laid down for the guidance of his pupils he first insisted upon a careful and attentive copying of natural life. The small garden of his studio was filled with all manner of animal, bird, fish, and insect life. Copying from nature he called the foundation or basis of painting and the mannerism of the touch an ornamental adjunct equally necessary through secondary in the art. He urged also the study of photographs and oil paintings as an aid to correct and faithful representation; but nature was in all cases to be the first master.
Such faithful copies from nature were to be regarded simply as studies and as aids to observation and memory. With a mind and memory well stored with all natural forms, and a hand skillfully trained to the production of powerful and expressive lines, the painter, seeking inspiration, would produce extempore his best works. Slavish copying for reproduction of the ideas of former painters he condemned, and though regarding many of the past artists of the old schools with profound reverence, he considered those schools as now dead all but in name, and represented on1y by powerless slaves to method and indifferent imitators. His independence of character and versatility had long severed him from the ourword conventions of a school of which the letter and not the spirit remained. Modest to the degree of humility, and full of veneration for talent, he found but little in contemporary art to venerate, and lived alone as a painter in the society of his own powerful conceptions and in communion with the past great spirits of art whose closer company he has now joined. “*typed by Junko Yamaguchi , Apr. 8. 2006