Kuroda Seiki (1866 – 1924)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Noted for bringing theories of Western art to a wider Japanese audience, Kuroda Seiki’s ‘Yoga’ (literally meaning ‘Western-style painting’) approach is one of hushed Impressionism. There is much Manet in his work. Much, of course, of his homeland too. Seiki a painter of life’s hushed moments, capturing a unique held-breath serenity through his busied style.

‘Plum Trees’ – 1924


In this skewered and freckled work, the trees, bare but for their scrub on top, craft a visual density through their spread amidst the empty grove. Their depiction as one of stick-like brings that urge up and out of the scrubland, with the right of the white tree at the centre seeming almost as a lissom dancer, its right leg far out to meet a stretched hand.

Throughout this work there is a sense of rippling at the surface, with the layered and frantic brushwork, especially in the interesting blends of orange and black in the upper left section, creating a distinct chilliness to the work. Almost as if a wind is rushing from behind the viewer and into the piece itself, pulling back the branches.

Branches which despite being in a work called, ‘Plum Trees’, hold no fruit.  Seiki perhaps then pointing more towards the power of renewal and potential within all things, the sense that soon a blossom will arrive on the bough, and soon after that they will be barren once more and so on. A theme indicative of the majority of Seiki’s later work, with its focus on the temporality of our own existence in the face of nature, or, in a sense, art.

‘Afternoon Nap’ – 1894


We catch the sleeper in a very intimate, almost elegiac pose. His lips pursed as if amid a light dream, his head resting on one arm with the other gently lying in a slightly awkward position indicative of the temporary occasion.

It’s a solemn, oddly reverential moment when you first see ‘Afternoon Nap’. With such detail on offer we feel as if we really have stumbled upon someone snoozing, taking care to pick apart the details carefully as if not to wake him.

From the bracken he lies on, to the rub of fabric he sleeps within, everything is brilliantly realised by Seiki. The sun especially, which encroaches on the slumberer as the afternoon wanes, interacts magically against the ground. Dappling the subject with pockets of light against his face and the woodland around.


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