Artist: Kikuchi Keigetsu (菊池契月)

Lifetime: 1879 - 1955

Related links: Mie Prefectural Museum;


"Tsuchida Bakusen once described his friend Kikuchi Keigetsu as a "typical Shinshū-jin, (person from Nagano Prefecture), seemingly introverted but actually tenacious, stubborn, and uncompromising." His introspective artistic temperament surfaced most strongly in his figure paintings from the Shōwa period, for which he is best known today. Carefully executed with a resilient line combined with the most stringent use of color, Keigetsu's work imparts an air of cool elegance. The aesthetic sensibility expressed in his mature work sets him apart from artists of the Kyoto Painting Circle... that derived from the Maruyama-Shijō tradition and aligns him with the so-called 'neo-classicism' (shin-koten-shugi) of Tokyo, most notably represented by the work of Yasuda Yukihiko."

The son of a village official in Nagano Prefecture, Keigetsu became a pupil of Kodama Katei, a bunjin-ga specialist, in 1892. Four years later, Keigetsu moved to Kyoto to study painting. After a brief study with Utsumi Kichidō (1850-1925), he became a pupil of Kikuchi Hōbun (1862-1918) , an influential master along with Takeuchi Seihō and Yamamoto Shunkyo. Once in Hōbun's juku, Keigetsu immediately began to make himself known, steadily winning awards at the Exhibition of New and Old Art (Shinko bijutsuhin ten) in Kyoto. Eventually, in 1906, Hōbun asked Keigetsu to marry his daughter and carry the name of the Kikuchi family. Keigetsu's paintings from the late-Meiji years demonstrate his focused interest in naturalistic representation of historical themes.

Keigetsu's oeuvre from the Taisho period presents an astonishing variety. Paintings range in subject and style from realist themes drawn from contemporary life, to a highly decorative Rinpa-inspired representation of the fairy-tale world, to romantic expressions in the bird-and-flower genre. A direct stimulus was his invigorating experiences at the Kyoto Municipal Special School for Painting (Kyoto Shiritsu Kaiga Senmon Gakkō) where he had begun teaching as Hōbun's assistant in 1910. At the school, Keigetsu was surrounded by such prominent artists as Takeuchi Seihō and Yamamoto Shunkyo. Moreover, inspired by the teachings of the young art historian, Nakai Sōtarō (1879-1966), Keigetsu eagerly attended the classes in art history and anatomy with his own students. During this period Keigetsu firmly established himself in the official art world; after the Bunten was instituted in 1907, Keigetsu became fo the the star painters, consistently winning awards. From 1918 onwards, he was frequently appointed as a judge for the Bunten and Teiten.

The turning point in Keigetsu's art came after 1922-1923 when he travelled in Europe for a year with his colleagues Nakai Sōtarō and Irie Hakō. His admiration of early Renaissance painting and Egyptian sculpture led him to investigate the past artisitic traditions in Japan such as Nara and Heian painting and ukiyo-e figures. His exposure to the tradition of Western portraiture inspired Keigetsu to represent historical personages. Many of his works from the 1930s and 1940s depict military heroes as in Welcoming the Imperial Carriage, 1943... echoing the intense nationalism in Japan at the time. One also finds refreshing images of contemporary young women in the genre of bijin-ga. Whether bijin or samurai, historical or unknown, Keigetsu conceived and depicted each figure in an earnest manner.

In politics as well as art, Keigetsu remained outside the Kyoto Painting Circle under Seihō's influence. During the 1935-1936 upheaval involving the reform of Teiten, Keigetsu was one of the few Kyoto artists who did not follow Seihō. The anguish and difficulties he experienced through this period caused him to gradually detach himself from kanten, or the government-sponsored exhibitions, altogether. In the 1930s, Keigetsu increasingly channelled his energies to private exhibitions organized by department stores or his own juku. After 1940, he ceased to participate in kanten almost entirely.

Always austere, Keigetsu once criticized his own Taishō paintings as 'too sentimental.' During the final decade of his life, however, Keigetsu wished to move beyond the cerebral approach which had often resulted in technically perfect but emotionally aloof expression in his early-Shōwa work. In particular, he admired the buoyant style of Tomioka Tessai's late works; even more, he yearned for Tessai's unconstrained state of mind."

Quoted from: Nihonga: Transcending the Past, entry by Michiko Morioka, pp. 307-308.


One measure of the esteem in which Kikuchi is held that two of his images appeared on Japanese postage stamps in 1986.