hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper; signed Tsunetomi with artist's seal Tomi, ca. 1910
painting 18 1/4 by 19 7/8 in., 46.5 by 50.5
overall 53 1/2 by 28 1/8 in., 136 by 71.5 cm
Although Kitano Tsunetomi was born in Kanazawa, he moved to Osaka as a young man where he would establish himself as a leading master of bijin-ga, and in his own lifetime, earn recognition as the first Nihonga artist from Osaka. He began his artistic career from 1892 to 1895 as an apprentice at woodblock printing shops in his hometown. In 1897 he worked for the carver Nakayama Komataro, before moving to Osaka in 1898 to study with the painter and print designer Ineno Toshitsune (1858-1907), a former pupil of Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908). In 1899 he began publishing illustrations in the monthly Shin-Nihon ('New Japan') while he also began studying yoga (Western-style painting).
During the first two decades of the new century, Tsunetomi emerged as a successful bijin-ga painter and illustrator. His early work was particularly distinctive; while many artists of this period were portraying women as relatively sweet and innocent, Tsunetomi's beauties were infused with a compelling combination of mysterious sexuality and realistic vulnerabilities. In 1910 he began exhibiting his paintings at the government sponsored Bunten exhibitions, and from 1914 with Inten, the exhibition of the Nihon Bijutsu-in (Japan Art Institute). After he became a full member of the Nihon Bijutsu-in in 1917, Tsunetomi's paintings style changed. His depictions of bijin became more idealized and refined, with less emphasis on exploring further dimensions of their sexuality. He began self-publishing prints in 1918, and established his juku (private teaching atelier), Haku-yosha (White Radiance Company) where he taught other prominent Osaka artists such as Shima Seien (1892-1970) and Nakamura Teii (1900-1982).
Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 68
Ellen P. Conant, Steven D. Owyoung, J. Thomas Rimer, Nihonga: Transcending the Past: Japanese-Style Painting, 1868-1968, The Saint Louis Art Museum, 1995, pp. 309-310
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