Culture

No.200 (12/9/11)

Yokoyama Taikan : An Innovator of Japanese Paintings.

By Keiko H. Johnson
Staff Writer

The scenes of Japanese villages: of the river, of mountains with trees, and the seas of our native land are the images come into my mind when I think of traditional Japanese paintings called Nihonga. The scenery of nature existing in Japan are observed and painted on a canvas of silk, washi paper, or on gold laminated screens. Of all the influential people who are devoted to make changes in the long history of Japan , Yokoyama Taikan was one of the extremely talented artists who transformed the Japanese painting method during his lifetime.

Yokoyama Taikan was born in Mito Ibaraki Prefecture in 1868. This year would be his 143rd birthday if he were still alive. He graduated from the Tokyo Art School in 1889 as one of the school's first graduates. He devoted some 30 years of his entire 90years of life to Japanese painting and was a direct impact on the history of Japanese painting method that exists to this day. His period of time, Meiji era , Taisho era, and Showa era, are important eras for painting during the course of history.

At the beginning of Yokoyama's career as an artist, he mainly practiced the traditional line drawing techniques on his paintings. After he graduated Art University in Tokyo , he taught fine arts at several universities and colleges in Kyoto and  around Tokyo . Once his mentor and co-worker, Okakura, was forcefully resigned from the universities for political reason, Taikan followed Okakura and joined him in establishing the fine art academy.  After Okakura's death, Taikan focused on reestablishing the Art Academy for the purpose of discovering young talented artists.

After his wife's death in early 1900, Taikan made several visits to western countries. His visits to oversea countries ticked his ambition toward discovering a new version of techniques and such a notion grew large. Having departed from the traditional technique of line drawing, he developed new style of technique called gMourou-taih (Blurred Style). Combining the techniques he learned from the western paintings, he experimented various painting methods. He later came to known as Mastery of Monochrome charcoal ink paintings with various tones and shades (Suiboku-ga). In addition to his own success in developing a new technique, his new development in g Mouroutaih style technique is highly credited as an extremely influential in the evolution of the Nihonga(Japanese painting ) Technique.

Before WW2 began, Japanese government officials sent Taikan to Italy as a representative of Japanese art community.  During this time of his life, he used Mt. Fuji as motif on many of his paintings.  According to one of the archives written by Taikan's friends, all of the moods Mt. Fulji expressed were one of his favorites. Mt, Fuji was most sacred subjects upon which his fame mainly rested. His paintings show his effort, trying to observe deeply so as to feel and understand the essential spirit behind nature at large. Such famed works as Taikan's Mt.Fuji were adapted onto Japanese commemorative stamps.

Among many paintings he left with us, most of them were distributed among his friends and admirers that not all of his works can be seen at the public exhibitions. Although they were exhibited singly on the wall of a particular room elsewhere, his works and his innovation are highly admired by many people to this day. One of Yokoyama's art galleries  gSuishinkanh in Fukuoka prefecture exhibits Yokoyama's paintings that were used for him to pay for his favorite Sake (rice wine) gSuishinh.  He lived his life as an artist until he passed away in November 1958 at his home at Ueno in Tokyo . His house is preserved as Taikan Memorial Hall and holds some two thousands pieces of his paintings.

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