Introduction

About this guide

Taki Katei was one of the most successful painters of his generation, but due to Japan's tumultuous modern history and changing fashions, his name is little known today. This exhibition presents a selection of drawings made by Katei and his pupils during the 1890s.

Katei was born in Edo, today's Tokyo, in 1830. In Japan at that time, there were numerous traditions of painting, prominent among which was one that borrowed themes and techniques from classical Chinese art, but was also concerned with botanical studies and sketching from life. From the age of six onwards, Katei studied painting of this type with various teachers. Aged twenty, he made the long overland journey to Nagasaki, where he could encounter Chinese culture more directly, and then for the next fifteen years he made a living as an itinerant painter, fulfilling commissions for patrons across Japan and copying paintings wherever he went.

Katei returned to Edo in 1866, just two years before the feudal regime was toppled and a new modernizing government was established. He built his reputation by exhibiting at domestic and international exhibitions and completing commissions for numerous clients, including the imperial court. In 1887, he was the highest paid painter on the project to decorate the new imperial palace, and in 1893 he was appointed an Imperial Household Artist.

Like all painters, Katei used drawings as preparation for his works, as a record of works he had studied and as aids for teaching. Students used the drawings as models to copy and to practise motifs and subject matter that they could combine into new compositions. Their own sketches show where they struggled and which aspects were most important to master. The drawings reflect the diverse range of formats in Japanese painting: hanging scrolls, folding screens, sliding doors, fans, albums and handscrolls. His speciality was images of nature, with landscapes, birds and flowers, but there are also subjects taken from Chinese mythology and legend.

The drawings in the exhibition were brought to England by Katei's pupil, Ishibashi Kazunori, born in 1876. In December 1903 Ishibashi accompanied two young Japanese aristocrats when they sailed to Europe, intending to further his study of oil painting. In January 1905 he gained entrance to the Royal Academy painting division, the first Japanese ever to do so. He sold the sketches to Katharine Boult, wife of a prominent Liverpool businessman, and in 1956 they were donated to National Museums Liverpool.

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