Drawing on Nature: Taki Katei’s Japan

Drawing on Nature: Taki Katei’s Japan at World Museum Liverpool showcases a selection of decorative preparatory sketches produced by the Japanese artist Taki Katei in the late nineteenth century. It is the first time Katei’s work has been exhibited in the UK. The work came into the possession of National Museums Liverpool when one of Katei’s pupils, Ishibashi Kazunori, brought a large collection of his sketches over to the UK when he came to study in London.

‘Prosperity and fragrance’, ink and colour on paper

Although Katei’s work is relatively unheard of today, at the height of his career, he was considered to be one of the most skilful and accomplished artists of his generation. In his work, Katei depicts idealised representations of nature. He focusses in particular on bird-and-flower paintings, a genre of which he was considered a master.

‘Bush peonies’, drawing, ink and colour on paper, 1883

For his preparatory sketches, Katei largely used ink on paper with subtle washes of colour. Bush Peonies (1883) is a stunning piece which depicts several butterflies among blossoming peony flowers. The peony is one of the most common floral motifs in East Asian art; it is known to symbolise wealth, good fortune and honour. For the subtle shades of the petals, Katei used pigment produced from ground seashells. This enabled him to use opaque washes of colour.

The exhibition space provides a transportive and immersive experience for visitors and features many references to Japanese culture. The rooms have been carefully furnished with bamboo shoji screens and tatami mats, as well as an artificial cherry blossom tree which visitors can sit under as they admire Katei’s work. The idyllic setting of the work certainly complements the serene subject matter.

Commenting on the exhibition, Emma Martin, the Senior Curator at World Museum, said:

“We hope visitors have the same reaction as we did as we unrolled each piece for the first time, and full, flouncy peonies in blushing pinks and strutting cockerels with iridescent feathers suddenly unfurled before our eyes. There were gasps of amazement and smiles of delight from members of the team who were unfamiliar with Katei’s work and we knew straight away that these works would make an incredible exhibition.”

The exhibition is on display until 13th April 2020.

Written by Rebecca Rice-Thomas

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