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Watanabe Seitei


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Watanabe Seitei is best known for his paintings and prints of birds and flowers, or kacho-e. Born with the name Yoshikawa Yoshimata, Seitei trained with the historical genre painter, Kikuchi Yosai. At the age of sixteen, he was adopted by Watanabe Koshi, a family friend with literary connections. After this, he took the artist's name Watanabe Seitei. He continued to paint steadily while working as a ceramics designer and industrial draftsman. In 1878, one of his paintings was accepted into the Paris Exposition where it won a silver medal. Seitei took the opportunity to visit Paris. There he was exposed to contemporary European paintings which utilized light and shadow, and perspective to give the impression of dimensionality. Seitei's later work was undoubtedly influenced by this experience.

Around 1890, Seitei began designing woodblock prints, completing his first album of bird and flower prints in 1891. His second album, called simply the Bird and Flower album (Kacho gafu), was published in 1903. Two years before his death, Seitei completed his third and final album of 22 prints, called the Album of bird-and-flower by Seitei (Seitei kacho gafu). These prints are considered among his finest kacho-e artwork. They were published by Okura Yasugoro, a little known Tokyo publisher.

Seitei's designs combine graceful calligraphic lines with delicate details and shading. His simple compositions are dynamically asymmetrical with an abundance of negative space. In the shikishiban print, Carp, the two fish are positioned in the corner of the design, leaving the rest of the page as negative space. This composition is balanced by sweeping horizontal bands of color, probably representing water ripples. Watanabe Seitei's work in the kacho-e genre was an important influence on the early shin hanga movement, especially on the artists Mizuno Toshikata and Kaburagi Kiyokata.

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