Kawabata, Ryûshi (川端龍子) (1885–1966) By Loh Kazuhara, Eve
Kawabata Ryûshi was one of few artists who were adept at both Nihonga (Japanese-style painting) and Yôga (Western-style painting). Originally trained in the latter, Ryûshi’s successful pointillist impressionist works were exhibited at the Tokyo Industrial Exposition and the Bunten (a government-sponsored exhibition) in 1907. In 1912, Ryûshi traveled to the United States where his encounter with the collection of Japanese art at the Boston Museum inspired a turn towards Nihonga. Ryûshi’s subsequent works were accepted for the Taishô Exposition in 1914, as well as for the Japan Art Institute’s second annual exhibition. After Ryûshi was made a full member of the Institute, he left his illustration job to become a full-time artist. Following his departure from the Institute in 1929, Ryûshi established the Blue Dragon Society (Seiryû-sha). There, he advocated painting large-scale works meant for exhibition purposes. This was a radical departure from traditional Nihonga works which were conventionally designed for smaller spaces, such as the interiors of Japanese homes. Some of Ryûshi’s better-known works are paintings created during Japan’s participation in World War II, and include narrative paintings based on the Japanese mythical creature known as the kappa. In 1956, Ryûshi painted dragons on the ceilings at the Asakusa Sensôji Temple. In 1959, he was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government.