The Salad Bowl. Vol. IV, No. 10. Nov. 1997. p. 1-4

Shizuoka Profiles: Wada Eisaku

Wada Eisaku, c. 1896

If you take a look at a ten thousand yen note used during the late Showa or early Heisei eras, you'll notice a prominent educator, Fukuzawa Yukichi. That engraving is based on a 1920 oil painting by Wada Eisaku, an artist who spent his final years in Shizuoka City.

Born in Kagoshima prefecture in 1874, Wada was the oldest of seven children. His father was a Christian minister and ran the family strictly. In 1878 the Wadas moved to Tokyo. His parents, sensing Eisaku's budding artistic talent, enrolled him in an academy which eventually became the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

In 1887 Wada entered Meiji Gakuin University, but quickly lost interest in school. After studying art under Prof. Uematsu, he decided to take an extended leave of absence. He subsequently studied oil painting and charcoal sketching under Harada Naojiro, Soyama Yukihiko, and Kuoda Seiki. Wada also studied Japanese art from Kubota Beikan. Setting high standards for his work, Wada sometimes felt depressed by his inability to actualize his visions on canvas. He even considered suicide, but gradually began to feel more confident.

Wada's first painting to receive widespread attention was a 1895 canvas entitled "Umibe no Risshun" [Early Spring by the Sea]. The subtle contrast of marine and terran landscapes and restrained use of vibrant colors gave this work great power. Two years later his "Totou no Yuugure" [River Crossing at Dusk] achieved the same effect. His contrast between the solid figures of six Japanese peasants with an etherial, rainbow-like river at twilight is remarkable.

In 1897 Wada went to Germany to study art under Adolf Fischer. He met Mr. & Mrs. Fischer the prior year in Japan and lived with them in Berlin until receiving a scholarship in 1898 to study in France. Working with Raphael Collin, he was inspired by the works of Corot, Millet, and Troyom. That Wada received a strong influence from these artists is undisputed, yet it is hard to classify Wada solely as a member of the Barbizon school. Some of his later works such as "Yabashi" [Yabashi Bridge] (1950), for instance, resemble Monet's "Water Lilies" (1899). Other works such as "Kodomo" [Child] (1952) show clear traces of primitivism.

Wheras some of Wada's works exhibit a rough simplicity, sometimes his palette is extremely refined and smooth. Perhaps his most sensous work is "Chuurippu" [Tulips] (1927), in which a restrained eroticism is achieved by the contrast of a seated nude with a pot of tulips in full bloom. The contrast between the sharp, Ingres-like lines of the model's torso and the diffuse background is also striking.

After returning from Europe, Wada became a professor at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and Music. He was popular with students and also became a swimming coach at that school. By 1930 Wada rose to the position of dean of that institution.

In 1907 he married Takahashi Shige. The same year he completed "Ouna" [Old Woman]. In this masterpiece, a setting sun is superbly reflected across receding tidal flats, as an aged woman clasping an umbrella-cane totters in the foreground. The russet sunset colors merge into the woman's face, creating a warm, unforgettable ambience.

During his thirties Wada became designed a number of stage sets. Favoring pastel colors and clear lines, the influence of art nouveau masters such as Mucha and Herouard is easy to discern.

In 1910 Wada received a commission to paint some murals on the ceiling of the Imperial Theatre. He also painted a number of murals at Tokyo Station. These works demonstrated a Japanized post-Victorian sensibility. Though these works were destroyed in the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, some sketches and photos of these works remain.

During World War II Wada also worked on some murals at Horyuuji temple in Kyoto. Towards the end of the War he moved to a rural part of Aichi Prefecture to avoid the bombing which was turning many Japanese cities into an inferno. A number of his works were destroyed during the war. Largely indifferent to the events around him, Wada never raised his voice against the government. During a period when the military government disapproved of the "decadence" of abstract and fauvist art, the conservative pieces by Wada (which really are more in tune with 19th Century sensibilities) received widespread acclaim. In 1943 Wada was awarded the Order of Culture and the following year he became an art instructor for the Imperial Household.

Seven years after the war, Wada moved to Miho - an area which soon to become part of Shimizu, and later Shizuoka City. During this period he completed numerous masterful sketches of the Nihon Daira, Miho-no-Matsubara, Seikenji, and Ryuugeji areas. In some ways, Wada's sketch books are more interesting than this oil works: there is a greater degree of experimentation evident in his private sketches than in his canvases which appeared in public.

In his final years Wada held many honorary posts. In 1953 he became director of the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition and in 1957 he received an award from the Ministry of Culture. Wada Eisaku examplified a conservative influence on the art world in Japan and his nickname 富士薔薇太郎 [Mr. Fuji-Rose] was not without satire. Traditional in his approach to art, Wada became associated primarily with paintings of roses and Mt. Fuji.

In January 1958 Wada was hospitalized with bladder cancer. Despite brief signs of recovery, his condition deteriorated and on January 3, 1959 he passed away.

Today Wada's works can be found in the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, the Bridgestone Museum, the Kagoshima Municipal Art Museum, and in the Chiryuu, Tarumizu, and Shizuoka city halls. A special museum dedicated to his works exists in Tarumizu City, Kagoshima.

- Tim Newfields

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Copyright (c) 1997 by Tim Newfields and the Shizuoka City International Association