Towards the end of Meiji Period in Japan, Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934) rose to the art scene as a ‘People’s Artist’ who depicted grassroots life and daily experiences of common people. The complex cultural ideology of the Meiji Period was also reflected in his paintings and his own intricate life experience. Yumeji was born in 1884 in Okayama, Japan. After graduating from Waseda High School, he studied oil painting in the Institute of Pacific Art Society. Yumeji first made his name in the Japanese art world as a painter who painted small individual illustrations. His first art album Yumeji gashu - Haru no maki was published in December 1909 and it included 178 illustrations he created for various magazines. The album was made with woodblock prints and was described as ‘initial sketches’, they gained immediate popularity in Japan. (1)
Early beliefs of Yumeji were inclined towards the common people and his works were largely influenced by Socialism. Bungaku Ningyo (Lot 415) that features traditional Japanese puppeteer and Umekawa Chubei (lot416) that depicts kabuki performer are two fine examples from this period. Yumeji’s style became more lyrical during the late Meiji Period and he turned towards Bijin-ga (paintings of beautiful women). After the Meiji Restoration, woman’s right began to gain awareness. Feminine beauty and the affection between man and woman became more accepted as a subject in art. In Lady of Tsuboya (Lot 414), Yumeji utilised lines and colours that would appear in Ukiyo-e, rendering the softness and the dainty posture of the beauty. The fairness on her face shows a hint of moving melancholy. This is a classic example of ‘Yumeji-style beauties’. The poetic atmosphere and lyrical romanticism in his works bring resonance to viewers. They also yearn for the utopian world he created, as seen in Spring Sea (lot 417) and Insect's Box (lot 419). In Snow Town (lot 418) however, Yumeji used minimal brushstrokes to capture its essence, with child-like innocence that captivates our heart.
Kenichi Yoshikawa, PhD candidate in History of Art in Waseda University, Japan, has pointed out that ‘Just like everyone in China knows about Feng Zikai, Yumeji Takehisa is extremely well known in Japan.’ (2) The reason why Feng Zikai (1898-1975) chose to create comics was not unrelated to his encounter with Yumeji’s album when he was studying in Japan. Feng recounted in an essay in the 1930s that ‘thinking back to the paintings I have seen in the past, it is this kind of small ink drawings that gave me the most lasting impression. I remember running into a copy of Yumeji gashu - Haru no maki in an antique bookstall in Tokyo when I was in my twenties. I flipped through the whole book and saw all the ink sketches with very simple strokes… this type of small drawings rendered with only a few strokes captured my eyes with its beauty of form, and reached my soul with its poetic aura….’ The ‘initial sketches’ by Yumeji has had lasting impact on Feng’s comic art. They also witnessed the cultural exchange between China and Japan in the twentieth century. Chinese artists who studied in Japan such as Fu Baoshi, Guan Liang and Ni Yide also demonstrated this exchange in their artworks.
1. Kenichi Yoshikawa, Comics in Modern China: Feng Zi-kai and Takehisa Yumeji