Curators’ selection — Hidden Masterpieces

KURODA Seiki, Woodsman. Oil on canvas.

KURODA Seiki, Woodsman. Oil on canvas.
Here we see a woodsman, a load of firewood on his back, walking up a mountain path. The season is late autumn, and the path is covered with fallen leaves. The reds and golds of the leaves are skilfully combined with the greens of the evergreens. The mountain in the distance is a bluish grey, with white clouds filling the sky above it. These hues in the background cause the brighter colors in the foreground and middle distance to stand out. Kuroda’s use of broken brushstrokes in rendering the fallen leaves, overlaying strokes with his delicate touch, is classic.

Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924) studied oil painting in France. After returning to Japan at the age of twenty-seven, he continued his artistic activities in Tokyo, where, until the end of his life, he was one of the art world’s central figures. One of his favorite subjects was people working in rural landscapes. In the works from the period when Kuroda was in France, it is, rather than the paintings he produced in Paris, the group he painted at Grez-sur-Loing, 70 kilometers southeast of Paris, together with those produced at a favorite travel destination, Ile de Brehat, an island in Brittany, that best convey the freshness of the young Kuroda’s newly awakened talent. Among them, paintings of workers engaged in agriculture predominate. After returning to Japan as well, Kuroda frequently painted workers taking a break from their labors. The woodsman in this painting belongs to this lineage.

Since the artist himself never spoke about this painting, it remains unclear where or when it was painted. One hypothesis is that it was painted around 1912, but another suggests that it dates from 1896. It is currently on display in the Kuroda Seiki, Master of Modern Japanese Painting: The 150th Anniversary of his Birth exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum (March 23-May 15, 2016). It has been some time since a major traveling exhibition brought together all of the extant works by this artist. It is hoped that including this painting among them will make it possible to estimate more precisely when it was produced by comparing its style and techniques with those Kuroda used in other works. (※The exhibition finished on May 15, 2016) Other works by Kuroda in the Ishibashi Foundation collection include Girl of Bréhat (fig.1) , from 1891 and Lilies (fig.2) , which Kuroda showed at the third Bunten exhibition in 1909. The techniques he used in Woodsman differ from both; where in his career to position this painting is thus a fascinating question for us.
KURODA Seiki, Girl of Bréhat,1891, Oil
on canvas
KURODA Seiki, Lilies,1909, Oil on canvas