In writing about Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita recently, the name Kuroda Seiki was mentioned as a teacher of Foujita. In Foujita’s younger years Kuroda (1866-1924) was already firmly established as an important artist in Japan, one who had spent ten years in France studying and one whose contribution in bringing Western painting to Japan is obvious from the label, “Father of Modern Japanese Western-Style Painting.”
Kuroda’s original purpose in going to Paris had been to study law, but while there he met several painters who encouraged him to paint. Not a new idea for the twenty year-old Kuroda who had been painting as a hobby for several years, and in a letter to his father he wrote: “Everyone says that Japanese art does not equal Western art, and is strongly urging me to study painting. In addition, I have also been told that I have the fundamental skills to take up painting, and that if I were to study, I would become a very good painter, that my study of painting would be more meaningful for Japan than the study of law.”
In 1886 Impressionism was already a reckoning force in Paris and while honing his painting skills through academic training, Kuroda also began to absorb the theories of that school. He began to mature as a painter around 1890. Prior to that time he had occasionally taken short sketching trips, but in May of 1890 his work began to show great progress during a stay in the village of Grez, where he settled for some months. Kuroda began to paint in the ‘plain air’ style that was a big part of Impressionism. The Impressionists had already shown the effect of natural light and Kuroda was learning to paint light.
Four years after returning to Japan Kuroda was a recognized and well-regarded artist not only in his own country, but internationally as well. By the time of his death in 1924 his impact on Japanese art was enormous. One of his major contributions was in convincing his fellow Japanese of the validity of the nude figure as a subject for art.
A woman sits enjoying the cool against a background of Ashino Lake and mountains on the far shore—the ideal image of an elegant Meiji era woman. Painted in 1897, the work is titled Lakeside.
Kuroda shows a young girl seated at a window concentrated on her reading. Her right hand is about to turn the page and the red and dark blue clothing stands out against the lighter background. In her face we see highlights of white reflected from the window light. The brush strokes are quick with visible strokes, characteristic of the Impressionist style. Reading, 1891.
This shows a triptych of three nudes, a work that created a near scandal when first exhibited. Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment; painted in 1897.
Withered Field, 1891; the French village of Grez on the Loing River. Kuroda noted that the winter landscape was more picturesque than the summer.
In this work, A Girl with Red Hair, painted in 1892, rather than the girl, Kuroda’s focus seems to be on depicting the sunlight shining on the girl’s red hair and the vivid lustre of the leaves. One of the most Impressionistic works Kuroda produced while in France, it was painted in Grez-sur-Loing.
A Nap, painted during a stay in Kamakura in 1894; midsummer sunlight filtered through trees on a sleeping girl is captured in strokes of red and yellow. This work goes beyond mere ‘plain air’ and demonstrates the artist’s skill with light, a strong characteristic of the Impressionists.