(JAPANESE, 1893-1962)
Nude Sitting in Rattan Chair
oil on canvas
113.2 x 86 cm. (44 1/2 x 33 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1927-1928
Private Collection, Japan
Fukuoka Art Museum, Kojima Zenzaburo: Centennial Memorial Exhibition, exh. cat., Fukuoka, Japan, 1993 (illustrated, p. 62; illustrated in black & white, p. 228).
Kojima Zenzaburo: Centennial Memorial Exhibition, (traveling exhibition), 14 July-8 August 1993, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan/20 August-12 September 1993, Chiba Sogo Department Store, Chiba, Japan 18 September-31 October 1993, The Museum of Modern Art Ibaraki, Ibaraki, Japan/17 November-5 December 1993, Odakyu Museum, Japan 4 January-6 February 1994, Mie Prefecture Art Museum, Mie, Japan.

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

In the history of Asian modern art, Japanese artist Zenzaburo Kojima occupies a role as precursory and prominent as Xu Beihong, Sanyu and Lin Fengmian of China, Liao Chi-Ch'un and Chen Cheng-po of Taiwan, and Kim Whan Ki of Korea. The artistic connection that describes them en bloc lies in their aspiration: by creating with the medium of oils, they seek to demonstrate the cultural perspective and aesthetical pith of the East, to cultivate a path that will bring Eastern and Western art into synthesis. It is through this endeavor that they establish the basic direction of the future development of Asian modern art, hence the paramount influence of these artists in the field. Traveling to Paris in 1925, Kojima meandered through the Louvre, Spain's Prado, and Rome and London, where the colossal Roman and Greek marble statues would become major influences. The works that established the realist style of his female nudes were created subsequent to this period of study, produced mainly in the 1920s and early 1930s. Nude Sitting in Rattan Chair (Lot 2014) is a representative. After then, scenic paintings and still-lifes gradually became his dominant mode, well exemplified by Chrysanthemum (Lot 2015).

The catalogue for Kojima's Centennial Memorial exhibition points out that there were fewer than 30 nudes in his total oeuvre, far fewer than the number of scenic paintings, yet the nudes, because of their relative rarity and their sharply distinctive style, have become Kojima's most representative works, works that symbolize his most crucial stylistic breakthrough. Nude Sitting in Rattan Chair is at once rare and illustrative: it shows the way Kojima unifies European classicism with the brushwork and color aesthetics of Japan, through which a new style of expression is contrived. The work, therefore, is an exemplar of the artist's ingenuity. We know from existing records that Kojima had produced a few similar pieces with the same scene and the same model; one of them is housed in the Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. In Nude Sitting in Rattan Chair, the artist, instead of depicting the intricate details of the model's physique, composes her body by geometric shapes, paying heed to reproduce the volume of human flesh. It presents one of the traits of Kojima's art - the incorporation of cubist form, a style that emerged after his Europe expedition. Round shape makes up the woman's face and breast, while her limbs and nose bridge are in cylinder and cone. It reminds us of what Paul C?zanne, the father of modernism, speaks about the principle of cubist figuration: "the shapes of the natural world can be expressed as cylinder, sphere, and cone." As reflected in the work, Kojima does not merely observe the external world; he instills in his objective observation a strongly subjective interpretation and sensation, striving to reveal the genuine structure of things lying beneath the surface. It is by grasping the basic constitutive principle of material objects that their essence can be expressed. Kojima's brushstroke, moreover, is crisp, rigid and weighty, giving plumpness and sturdiness to the woman's body and skin. The minute and delicate variations of the monochromatic light accentuate her bodily volume and curvature, and with the lighter skin color on the front of her body and the back of her hand, a light source from the foreground is implied, which adds theatricality to the work with a classicist chiaroscuro effect.

Nude Sitting in Rattan Chair is richly and lushly composed; the poser is placed at the center of the canvas, sitting between a wall corner at the back and a patterned carpet on the front. The painted scene has the savor of a photograph, looking like a fragment of life or a section of scenery specially captured. The expression also bears semblance to that of Japanese Ukiyoe, with the pictorial space extending leftward and rightward, and even to the front. The mood, as a whole, is calm, relaxed and comfortable - a pleasant afternoon repose.

The rattan chair, the carpet and the floor motif are sumptuously colored. The artist takes up from the traditional Ukiyoe art a flat, decorative coloring style, which, embodying the characteristics of expressionist coloration, is common and sought-after in the Japanese "y?ga" (i.e. western painting) world at that time. Around the 1930s, there emerged a group of Japanese artists who proposed to introduce the Rimpa style and Nanga style into y?ga art. Rimpa, distinguished by its resplendent and elegant coloring, was very popular in the Edo period (17 - 19 century), whereas Nanga is a freehand style of painting, mostly in ink-wash. Kojima has brought these styles into his own oils, trying to liberate the expressiveness, decorativeness and flatness of colors. The result is a new, idiosyncratic style that he coined "Neo-Japanism". Nude Sitting in Rattan Chair is a showcase of this artistic idea: with the eminently Western theme of the nude, and an expression that incorporates both Eastern and Western elements, it encapsulates the mode and fruition of the pioneering attempt of modern Japanese artists to integrate Eastern and Western art.

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