Kuroda Seiki: who was the Japanese artist being honoured with a Google Doodle, what did he do - and legacy

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons) | Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Google Doodle honours the 156th birthday of Seiki Kuroda, a well-known Japanese artist who is regarded as the father of Western-style paintings in the country.

But who was the artist, and how has his legacy helped to shape the Japanese art world?

Here is everything you need to know.

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Who was Seiki Kuroda?

Born in Kagoshima, Japan in 1866, Kuroda was adopted at birth by his uncle, who moved him to his estate in Tokyo.

Kuroda then moved to Paris at the age of 18 to study law, but after two years decided to pursue painting instead.

He spent a decade in France learning to paint in the Western academic style, honing his craft during a period of self-discovery.

Kuroda returned to Japan in 1893, bringing new life to the Western-style art scene in many Japanese cities.

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He founded the Tenshin Dojo, a Western painting school which championed pleinairism, the practise of painting outdoors.

In 1986, he founded the Hakuba-kai, also known as the White Horse Society, a group of Japanese yoga and painting practitioners, and was also asked to teach Western Painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts.

Kuroda was chosen as a teishitsu gigei-in, or Imperial Household Artist, in his later years to create works for the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

He was also President of the Imperial Art Academy and was made a Viscount in 1917 - in 1920, Kuroda was elected to Japan’s House of Peers, or Kizoku-in, the Meiji Era’s new aristocratic social class.

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Kuroda left an indelible mark on the Japanese and international art worlds, inspiring a new generation of Western-style, Impressionist, and Pleinairist artists to carry on his legacy.

The Japanese government has since chosen two of his works - Maiko (1893) and Lakeside (1897) - as commemorative postage stamps.

Why was he controversial?

In 1895, Kuroda assisted in the organisation of the Fourth National Industrial Exhibition, which was held in Kyoto; he also submitted Morning Toilette for display at the same venue.

Despite receiving a prize for the painting, the exhibition of a picture of a naked woman in front of so many visitors outraged many and sparked a media frenzy in which critics condemned the work’s perceived flouting of social standards.

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No critics criticised the painting’s technical aspects, instead blasting Kuroda for its subject matter; the artist maintained a public silence on the matter, but privately, he stated that he had won the moral battle.

What is his legacy?

As a teacher, Kuroda taught many young artists the lessons he had learned in Paris.

Among his students were painters such as Wada Eisaku, who would go on to become some of the most important Japanese painters of their generation.

Many of Kuroda’s students chose to go on to study in Paris, much as their mentor did, resulting in a greater awareness of broader trends in Western art for many Japanese artists in the 20th century.

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