Celebrating Kuroda Seiki’s Birthday

In a recent addition to their famous Google Doodles, Google have memorialised the birthday of Kuroda Seiki Kuroda on the 156th anniversary of his birth. Seiki was a Japanese artist, painter, and teacher, who was most famous for introducing Western styles of art into Japanese culture. Seiki was amongst the cultural leaders who championed the Western-style movement of art in Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, earning himself the moniker “the Father of Western-style painting”, which is how he is remembered in Japan.


Kuroda Seiki was born to Kuroda Kiyokane and Yaeko, his father and mother, respectively. Born into a prominent family, his father Kiyokane was a samurai of the Shimazu clan, a Japanese royal family that maintained its status in Japan for over 700 years, from the late 12th century to the end of World War II, when the new Constitution of Japan removed the titles and power enjoyed by these clans. He was adopted by his father’s older brother and his wife as soon as he was born and so his uncle and auntie became his adopted parents.


After learning English and French in preparation to travel to Europe to study law, Seiki arrived in Paris, where he remained for 10 years. During this time, Seiki met with prominent Japanese artists such as Yamamoto Hosui, Fuji Masazo, and Hayashi Tadamasa, who urged him to drop his legal studies and to learn painting instead. Which is exactly what he did.


Returning to Japan a decade after he had left, Seiki brought with him the many styles and aspects of Western painting he had learned in his Parisian studies. He began to apply these Western artistic principles to Japanese subjects, from buildings to landscapes to people. In particular, his bold use of colour and experimentation with light, along with his painting of nude subjects (a significant taboo in Japanese society at the time) caused a significant furore within the Japanese art world, earning him both supporters and critics.


Seiki’s successes spanned his lifetime and while his fame in Japan grew, so did his position in the art world. By 1894 a number of his paintings had been displayed in the Meiji Fine Arts Society annual exhibition, and he had taken over as head of the art school his friend had established. Just two years later he was made the director of the newly established Department of Western-Style Painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts.


Among Seiki’s most famous works of art are the nude trio Sentiment, Impression, and Wisdom, his incredibly controversial Morning Toilette, which was unfortunately destroyed in the World War II, and Lakeside, his depiction of his wife, Teruko, sat by the lake in Hakone.


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