Still Life Paintings and “Hand” by KISHIDA Ryusei – the 8th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

The seminar conducted in person
Cover of Works and Essays on Arts of Ryusei 1920 (owned by TOBUNKEN collection)
Still Life, with its poem, 1918 (not existence, shown in Works and Essays on Arts of Ryusei)

 KISHIDA Ryusei (1891-1929), a painter who was active in the Taisho period, studied in the Aoibashi Yōga-kenkyūsho (research institute of Western-style paintings), which was founded by KURODA Seiki. KISHIDA then presented his paintings mainly in Sōdo-sha, an artwork association founded by him and his fellows. KISHIDA pursued his unique painting style by actively accepting elaborate paintings by old masters such as Albrecht Dürer and Jan van Eyck, and then paid attention to Chinese and Japanese traditional paintings. This was in contrast to other contemporary Japanese paintings, which were strongly influenced by modern French paintings. The momentum to reevaluate Kishida’s paintings is now boosted. For example, the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto newly housed the entire personal collection of KISHIDA Ryusei in 2021.

 YOSHIDA Akiko of the department discussed Kishida’s unusual expression of a human hand on his still life paintings in her presentation titled the Design of “Hand” by KISHIDA Ryusei – Focusing on His Still Life- at the seminar held on February 24th, 2022. A motif of hand was painted on Still Life (with Hand that has been erased) (painted in 1918, private collection.) However, the hand was later overpainted onto the screen, which makes it invisible to the naked eye. In the other case, a hand holding an apple was painted with a poem on the Still Life, with its poem (painted in 1918, destroyed in fire) in the same period. However, this artwork was lost forever. These two paintings, which cannot be seen in the way they were viewed when they were painted, raised arguments and attracted public attention in magazines and newspapers regarding their submission to the fifth Nika Art Exhibition (the former failed.) In her paper Eliminated Hand: Still Life Paintings by KISHIDA Ryusei of 1918 (published in Bijutsushi 183 vol.67 no.1, 2017), the presenter discussed the relationship with his art theory which was being developed by KISHIDA in the same period when he had painted these still life paintings, and the relationship with his artwork in 1916, when he had started painting still life in the earnest. In this presentation, she discussed the background as to why the “hand,” as a characteristic part of KISHIDA’s portraits, attracted attention as an independent motif and suggested that the review on KISHIDA Ryusei by WATANABE Kichiji / Kihciharu*, who was an aesthetician and had accepted German Aesthetics in that period as a pioneer, had influenced him.

 The seminar was conducted in person at TOBUNKEN’s meeting room with sufficient precautions against the spread of COVID-19 infection. We invited Mr. TANAKA Atsushi (Director, OKAWA MUSEUM OF ART) as a commentator. We also had participants from outside of TOBUNKEN, including Ms. KOBAYASHI Mioko (Cultural Design Section, Culture, Commerce and Industry Division, Toshima City), Mr. TANAKA Jun’ichiro (The Museum of the Imperial Collections Sannomaru Shozokan), and Ms. YAMANASHI Emiko (Director, Chiba City Museum of Art.) The commentator provided information that impacted the core part of presentation, and active discussion occurred in the Q&A session. Hints were also provided on further research on his still life paintings in which unsolved questions remained, including the basic issues in the screen revision of Still Life (with Hand that has been Erased). The seminar was extremely fruitful.

*Watanabe’s first name can be spelled out two ways, and it is uncertain as to which one is correct.

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