Today’s Google Doodle honors the 156th birthday of Seiki Kuroda, a well-known Japanese artist considered the father of Western-style painting in the country.
But who was the artist and how did his legacy help shape the Japanese art world?
Here’s everything you need to know.
Who was Seiki Kuroda?
Born in 1866 in Kagoshima, Japan, Kuroda was adopted by his uncle, who took him to his Tokyo estate.
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 and honing his craft during a period of self-discovery.
Kuroda returned to Japan in 1893 and revived the Western-style art scene in many Japanese cities.
He founded the Tenshin Dojo, a Western painting school that advocated plein airism, the practice 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 Academy of Fine Arts and was appointed Viscount in 1917 – in 1920 Kuroda was elected to Japan’s House of Peers or Kizoku-in, the new aristocratic class of the Meiji era.
Kuroda left an indelible mark on the Japanese and international art world, inspiring a new generation of Western, impressionist and pleinairist artists to continue his legacy.
The Japanese government has since selected two of his works – Maiko (1893) and Lakeside (1897) – as commemorative stamps.
Why was he controversial?
In 1895, Kuroda helped organize the Fourth National Industrial Exhibition, held in Kyoto; He also submitted Morning Toilet for exhibition at the same location.
Despite the price of the painting, the display of a picture of a nude woman in front of so many visitors outraged many and sparked a media frenzy, with critics condemning the work’s perceived disregard for social standards.
Neither critic criticized the technical aspects of the painting, but instead blasted Kuroda for its subject matter; The artist publicly remained silent on the matter, but privately stated that he had won the moral battle.
What is his legacy?
As a teacher, Kuroda imparted the lessons he learned in Paris to many young artists.
Among his students were painters like Wada Eisaku, who would later become the most important Japanese painters of their generation.
Many of Kuroda’s students chose to study in Paris, much like their mentor, leading to a greater awareness of broader trends in Western art among many Japanese artists in the 20th century.