Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Center for Conservation Science
Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation
Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Optical Investigation of the Oil Paintings by KISHIDA Ryusei

Investigation at TOBUNKEN
Investigation at the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art

 KISHIDA Ryusei (1891-1929), a painter who worked mainly on oil paintings in the Taisho period, is renowned for his many masterpieces, including two Important Cultural Properties: Road Cut through a Hill (1915, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo) and Portrait of Reiko (1921, Tokyo National Museum). His still life paintings are noted for his careful screen composition, and very detailed depiction even of the cracks of desks and spots on fruits. His paintings have influenced not only western-style painters but also Japanese-style painters and photographers.

 However, among his paintings, Still Life (with the hand erased) (1918, private collection) has received controversial remarks. This work could not be presented at an exhibition because it was criticized for having a painted human hand, which was considered creepy. This criticism impacted KISHIDA’s characteristic works. However, this controversial hand was later mysteriously removed by someone. To address questions regarding why the hand was erased and what relation this painting has with his other still life paintings, we conducted an optical investigation of his four still life paintings in FY2022 with cooperation from various institutes and individuals in Japan. This investigation was conducted in preparation for YOSHIDA Akiko’s presentation titled Still Life Paintings by KISHIDA Ryusei ― Topicalize “Looking” at the 56th Public Lecture: “Look at Form, Read Form,” which is to be held on November 8, 2022.

 This investigation was mainly conducted with reflection and transmittance near-infrared photography. It also used fluorescent and ultraviolet photography by SHIRONO Seiji, artificer of the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems. X-ray images were taken for Still Life (with the hand erased) by INUZUKA Masahide, head of the Analytical Science Section of the Center for Conservation Science. As the result, we obtained a whole screen image of Still Life (with the hand erased) with the “hand” hidden in the painting. In addition, it showed us that other multiple paintings have traces of KISHIDA’s repainting with motifs relocated. We can say it is a “discovery” to bring new information regarding KISHIDA Ryusei’s painting process. I will present the findings in detail at the public lecture mentioned above.

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