Seison Maeda

Art on This Day


Born in on this day in 1903, Seison Maeda was considered one of the greatest contemporary Japanese painters and one of the great leasders of Nihonga movement. Seison Maeda was the pseudonym of a nihonga painter in Taishō and Shōwa period Japan, his real name was Maeda Renzō.

Maeda enrolled at the art school headed by Kajita Hanko, from whom he received the name "Seison" in 1902. He met and befriended fellow student, Kobayashi Kokei, whose work influenced many of Maeda's early paintings.

Maeda was a member of the Kojikai artistic group from 1907, and of the Japan Fine Arts Academy (Teikoku Bijitsuin) from 1914.

Although Maeda was able to travel and was exposed to many western paintings, he remained faithful to the traditional Yamato-e and Rimpa styles of Japanese painting. He came to be known for his watercolor paintings on historical themes, primarily portraiture. However, Maeda worked in a variety of genres, including still life and landscapes.

One of his most important works, Yoritomo in a cave, depicts medieval samurai leader Minamoto no Yoritomo hiding in a cave in Izu with seven of his trusted retainers after his defeat by the Heike clan at the Battle of Ishibashiyama. The work was completed in 1929, and won the prestigious Asahi Prize in 1930. It is now on display at the Okura Shukokan museum owned by the Okura Hotels in Tokyo.

In 1944, Maeda was appointed as an official court painter to the Imperial Household Agency, and taught painting to Empress Kōjun and in 1946 became an official judge of the annual Japan Arts Exhibitions (Nitten). He was also a professor at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music from 1950 until his retirement in 1959.

Maeda was awarded the Order of Culture and was named a Person of Cultural Merit in 1955. In 1967, he was selected to assist in the restoration work on the frescos of the Kondo Hall of the temple of Hōryū-ji in Nara together with Yasuda Yukihiko.

His work was selected to decorate the Shakkyō-no-Ma hall of the new Tokyo Imperial Palace. The large painting was completed in 1955.[1] It depicts a Lion Dancer awaiting cue from the Noh play “Shakkyō” (石橋 "stone bridge"). The play is a fifth-category (kiri-nō) play featuring a lion dance (shishimai).[2] Two pieces also by him depicting Japanese camellia were added in the 1970s on either side of the lion dancer painting, called “Shiro-botan” in white and “Beni-botan” in red.

After Maeda's home was destroyed by the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II, Maeda relocated to Kamakura, where he lived within sight of Kita-Kamakura Station from 1945 until his death in 1977 at the age of 92. His grave is a very distinctive 13-story white stone pagoda at the temple of Tōkei-ji in Kamakura.