Takeuchi Seiho

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  • Born: 1864/11/22
  • Died: 1942/8/23
  • Other Names: 竹内恒吉 (Takeuchi Tsunekichi)
  • Japanese: 竹内 栖鳳 (Takeuchi Seihou)

Takeuchi Seihô was a prominent Kyoto Nihonga painter, perhaps most famous for his monochrome ink landscapes incorporating the realism of Western oil painting; however, Seihô was a prolific artist with a varied oeuvre, including not only ink landscapes with Western realism, but also full-color bijinga in a neo-ukiyo-e mode, ceramics, bronze sculpture, paintings on kimono, among other modes and subjects.

He taught students in his private studio for roughly forty years, and taught at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts for roughly thirty; his students included Tsuchida Bakusen, Uemura Shôen, and Nishiyama Suishô, who would each go on to become prominent Nihonga painters in their own right.


He was born Takeuchi Tsunekichi and raised in Kyoto, taking on the art-name Seihô later in life. Tsunekichi's father Masashichi owned a seafood restaurant known as the Kameya, which was frequented mainly by artisans from the nearby Nishijin textiles district, and by officials whose offices surrounded Nijô castle. The family's home was just behind the restaurant, a rather typical arrangement for family businesses in early modern Japan.

Young Tsunekichi, his parents' only son, was weak and sickly, suffering from chronic stomach problems. His mother died when he was twelve and a half, after which he was raised by his maternal grandmother, until she died in 1888. Tsunekichi's sole sister helped their father run the restaurant, leaving young Tsunekichi free to focus on his hobbies and interests.

He attended terakoya (temple school) for the standard five years or so, and received some additional tutoring in Chinese literature, but otherwise received no further formal education. Some textile designers and other artists who frequented the restaurant aided him in learning to draw, and otherwise inspired his artistic interests and pursuits. Tsunekichi began more formally studying painting in spring 1877, at the age of 14[1], under a distant relative named Tsuchida Eirin. Eirin was a designer of yûzen dyed goods, and held painting classes in his home. Eirin drew upon Shijô school materials and methods in training his students, emphasizing close observation of nature, the use of model skeetchbooks (tehon), and the keeping of one's own sketchbooks, prepared in part by sketching birds and plants from life (shasei).


Seihô began studying under Kôno Bairei in 1881, joining roughly seventy other students receiving private lessons from Bairei. Most of these students, like Seihô, had family connections to Nishijin and/or the textiles industry.

Through Bairei, Seihô first began to move in Kyoto's more elite artistic circles, meeting many of the most prominent professional painters in the city. Only two years after beginning to teach Seihô, Bairei in 1883 assigned him to help those students who were having difficulty, and shortly afterwards secured a position for Seihô to teach formally at the Kyoto Prefecture Painting School which Bairei helped establish in 1880. Bairei also helped Seihô get his work shown at formal exhibitions, but at first it did not attract much attention; Bairei also took Seihô along with him on various high-end commissions, including one when Bairei produced records of a Higashi Honganji abbot's journeys in the Hokuriku region.

As was apparently not uncommon for people of a certain class or wealth in the Meiji period, Seihô, when he was young, had his "adolescent sexual needs met"[2] by a young woman who worked for the family as a maid. She bore him two children - a daughter named Tei in 1882, and a son named Kamejirô in 1888. It was common in such situations for the maid to be given some sizable sum of money or gifts, and sent off to the countryside (or just elsewhere) with her children. However, Seihô's two children were adopted by other members of the family, and so they, and their mother, Kiuchi Koma, remained at the Kameya. Kamejirô would later study painting under his father (Seihô), and show in the Bunten under the art-name Meihô.

Seihô married Takayama Nami, the daughter of Takayama Ihei, a Nishijin textile merchant, in August 1887, and moved into a house across the street from his father's restaurant, which his father paid to have built. On this occasion, Bairei declared Seihô no longer a student, and now an independent painter in his own right. Embarking on his own, Seihô began acquiring patrons not only from among local Kyoto merchants, but also among those from the nearby provinces, who traveled into Kyoto regularly to settle accounts; one of his more major contacts came about through his wife, Nami, who was close friends with the wife of Iida Tôjirô, who headed Takashimaya's studio for artists. Seihô produced numerous designs for Takashimaya tapestries and other high-end textiles, including some which were produced on commission from the Imperial Household; Seihô showed in Takashimaya's seasonal Nihonga exhibitions every spring and autumn, as well as for numerous special events as well. Later, his students were able to show work at Takashimaya's shows as well.

Seihô had seven children with his wife, Nami, of which three daughters died before the age of two. They, along with his students, lived together in the home which also served as his private studio, and his students were expected to contribute to the housework. This was a fairly standard arrangement, as was Seihô's active involvement in socializing with patrons and other friends out on the town, especially in the geisha districts. Yet, Seihô became especially known for his indiscretions. When one of his students, Mutobe Sadae (b. 1879), became pregnant, her father, the head of Mukô Shrine near Saga, Kyoto, is said to have been outraged, to have accused Seihô of violating the master/student relationship, and to have demanded that Seihô deal with the consequences. This meant taking Sadae in. Sadae, who had taken the art-name Kihô, was given a separate home nearby. Her relationship with Seihô, despite the presence of his wife Nami, continued for more than thirty years after that; her relatively quiet home provided for Seihô a nice alternative from his own busy studio space. She adopted the first child she had by Seihô, pretending it was not his, in order to protect him; they had five more sons, who she had adopted by various friends or acquaintances of Seihô's. Their one daughter was born in 1912, but died at the age of five.

Seihô's father died in 1892, and Seihô's sister Koto took over the restaurant; when she died in 1905, Kiuchi Koma took over running the restaurant. His daughter Tei (b. 1882 to Koma, the maid) married Seihô's pupil Nishiyama Suishô in 1916.

Seihô made his first and only trip to Europe in 1900-1901, in conjunction with the Exposition Universelle in Paris. While there, he tried his hand at oil painting, and developed a fondness in particular for the works of JMW Turner and Barbizon school painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He is known to have visited the zoo at Antwerp, later producing realistic paintings of lions, among other animals, and to have seen a number of works by Rubens, among other artists, at European churches.[3]

After his return, he focused for a time on the production of byôbu (folding screen) paintings aimed at commercial sale, in order to help fund the purchase of instructional materials for his teaching practice. Continuing his relationship with Takashimaya, and active involvement in Kyoto's art world, he produced designs for two textile pieces which ended up winning Takashimaya first prize at the 1903 Fifth Domestic Exposition in Osaka. These were an embroidered wall hanging depiction a lion, and a design of Mt. Fuji which accompanied works by Tsuji Kakô and Yamamoto Shunkyô depicting, respectively, a scene in Switzerland, and Niagara Falls, as a "views of scenes around the world" triptych. The three artists were later commissioned by Takashimaya to produce another triptych on the same theme; this one included one of Seihô's most famous works, "Moon over Venice," depicting the Grand Canal in Venice in a style reminiscent of JMW Turner, but employing traditional Japanese ink painting media. The yûzen pieces based on these designs were shown at the Japan-British Exhibition in London in 1910.

Though his works vary greatly, in many of his works, Seihô is said to have "liked to work with a limited palate [sic] of subtle gradation and relied upon the tactile quality of the picture plane to animate the surface and enliven the scene."[4] Combining the brushwork style of the Maruyama-Shijô schools of traditional ink painting with elements of Western painting methods, he created his own distinct style for painting landscapes and other subjects.

Always quite prominent and active in the Kyoto art world, Seihô enjoyed many patrons from the textiles community, as well as other prominent local figures. One of these, Ôtani Kubutsu, abbot of Higashi Honganji, became Seihô's pupil for a time, and in 1914 convinced him to design a bronze fountain for the temple; the fountain, in the form of a lotus blossom, still stands today. Seihô maintained strong connections as well with the printing firm Unsôdô, and designed many woodblock prints for the firm. In addition to his activities in the geisha districts, he was also an avid amateur practitioner of Noh chanting and dancing, and seems to have frequently attended the theatre. His sketchbooks include images of kyôgen performances and ningyô jôruri puppets, and he is known to have entertained Tokyo-based kabuki actors such as Ichikawa Danjûrô X when the troupes toured in the Kyoto area.

Seihô also regularly served as a jury member for the Bunten from its establishment in 1907 onwards, and earned numerous awards for his own works at various exhibitions. Communicating with major figures in the Kyoto exhibitions, and in the Tokyo art world, he combatted efforts by Okakura Kakuzô to weaken or divide the Kyoto Nihonga community, and otherwise worked to keep the Kyoto community relatively strong and unified even as the Tokyo art world, at times, became more and more fractured.

He was named an Imperial Household Artist in 1914, and was commissioned by the Imperial Household Agency to produce a pair of screens commemorating the coronation of the Taishô Emperor. At the height of Seihô's career, he was so prominent a figure that Kyoto city officials frequently brought esteemed Japanese and foreign visitors to the city to meet with Seihô. Demand for his artworks, or for him to take one on as a student, was great, and many prominent figures, including politicians, court nobles, and painters from overseas, paid him visits; some of them he agreed to take on as students. He was also at one point offered a teaching position at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, but turned it down in order to remain in Kyoto.

Seihô received high praise from Kaburaki Kiyotaka, a rather prominent Tokyo painter; Kiyotaka is quoted as saying "In today's painting world, if we were to find a meijin (master artist), it can be no one but Seihô. ... There is a good chance that Seihô is the very last meijin."[4]

Ironically perhaps, despite his reputation for this sort of promiscuity, and for generally spending too much time out drinking, with geisha, or at the theatre, Seihô was quite thoughtful and actively engaged when it came to his signature and his reputation or "image" as an artist; in his dealings with Takashimaya and numerous other firms and patrons, and in, for example, how he signed his paintings and where, he had a rather modern attitude, informed by understandings of commercialism and the art markets. He carefully managed his public and private personas, or, his public media image as different from his reputation within certain social circles, and within the art world. In 1910, he was commissioned by Hosokawa Moritatsu, the founder of Eisei Bunko, to produce a painting of a monkey which, along with paintings of Kannon and cranes by Yokoyama Taikan and Shimomura Kanzan, would form a triptych.

He built a house near the temple of Kôdai-ji in Kyoto's Higashiyama district in 1929, and began spending considerable amounts of time in Izu; now 65 years old, he had begun to frequently suffer from pneumonia and the flu, and found the climate in Izu more comfortable. For a number of years, his student Kihô lived there with him.

In 1937, Seihô, along with Yokoyama Taikan, became one of the first two Nihonga artists to be awarded the Order of Cultural Merit. He died five years later at the age of 78.


  • Conant, Ellen. "Cut from Kyoto Cloth: Takeuchi Seihô and his Artistic Milieu." Impressions 33 (2012). pp71-93.
  • "Takeuchi Seihô." Digital-ban Nihon jinmei daijiten デジタル版 日本人名大辞典. Kodansha, 2009.
  1. By traditional age calculation, in which one enters one's "second year" on what modern/Western reckoning would consider one's first birthday.
  2. Conant. p86.
  3. Gallery label, "Dead Crane," Metropolitan Museum of Art.[1]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Conant. p72.