The Extraordinary Drawings of Kyosai

Tokyo Station Gallery

poster for The Extraordinary Drawings of Kyosai

This event has ended.

*Please buy advance reservation tickets at Lawson Ticket. Tickets are not available at the museum as a general rule.

Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889) is a popular artist, and exhibitions of his works seem to be held every year. Unlike previous exhibitions, however, none of his finished paintings (with coloration based on his preparatory pictures) or prints are on display here. Our exhibition consists of carefully selected works from the extensive collection of Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum that give a very vivid sense of how Kyosai drew, such as drawings, preparatory pictures, sekiga (impromptu drawings created extemporaneously at parties and other occasions), and e-dehon (illustrated painting manuals). Although his finished paintings are highly accomplished, they might be well-mannered works where the raw energy of his drawing is suppressed, and his pupils undertook tasks such as coloration for some of them. In addition, although there are many Kyosai woodblock prints, they were completed with cooperation from other people, namely the carvers and printers who worked on Kyosai’s original drawings. The preparatory pictures and sketches, however, are 100% the work of Kyosai, and vividly show us how skilled he was. The bold decision not to display Kyosai’s finished paintings is a challenging attempt to immerse visitors in works that focus solely on his talent for artistic expression and depiction.

Kyosai’s sketches and drawings are replete with a distinctive charm that is not found in his finished paintings. Once he had attained a grasp of his subject, Kyosai could view it from any direction and depict it in any pose, even without having it physically in front of him. His drawings demonstrate that talent to the full, showing numerous groups of stunning representations. One thing highlighted in this exhibition is the energy and exuberant brushstrokes of the countless line drawings that seem to fill up all available space. Details that are excised in the finished paintings, such garment pleats, individual hairs, or facial or bodily wrinkles, are meticulously depicted in the drawings. Such details express exuberant and dynamic movement that becomes watered down in the finished paintings. They give these drawings an enduring appeal.

Sekiga (impromptu paintings) are sketched spontaneously in front of an audience. During the Edo and Meiji eras, calligraphy and painting parties were often held where artists displayed their skill in front of many guests. Impromptu paintings, completed on the spot without the aid of a sketch and before a watchful audience, revealed the true extent of the artist’s talents. Kyosai seems to have frequently attended such parties and many of his sekiga still exist. The broad range of topics they cover, and their excellent quality, are a testament to Kyosai’s outstanding ability. Sekiga, created extemporaneously in a short time, is sometimes regarded as being less important than finished paintings which require a lot of time to create and utilize carefully prepared drawings. However, it may well be that an artist’s true ability (latent potential) is actually revealed in their sekiga.

Frolicking Animals, Nekomata and Tanuki Badger (pre paratory drowing) is one of Kyosai’s most well-known drawings, thanks to its unique subject and humorous depictions. A missing piece of this work has been found, and is on display for the first time ever at this exhibition. The newly-discovered piece is a continuation of the upper part of the drawing, and depicts mice hanging down from the branches of a tree.



from November 28, 2020 to February 07, 2021
Open on 1/11 and 2/1. Closed on 12/28-1/1, 1/12. By appointment only. Until 18:00 on 1/15, 1/22, 1/29, 2/5.


Kyosai Kawanabe



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