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World premiere for World Museum as Liverpool celebrates Japanese art

Exquisite and detailed pieces by celebrated Japanese artist Taki Katei have gone on show in Liverpool in a world premiere for the city.

The exhibition at World Museum Liverpool is the first time the art of Katei – exhibited here alongside pieces by pupil Ishibashi Kazunori – has been seen outside Japan.

The show forms part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture.

Dozens of preparatory paper works are on show at the William Brown Museum, with the images ranging from repeated practice sketches to intricate designs in ink and watercolours.

The delicate sketches have lain in National Museums Liverpool archives for more than 60 years after being donated by Blundellsands-raised Sir Adrian Boult in 1956. His mother acquired them from Kazunori, who moved to Britain in the early 20th century and painted the celebrated conductor in 1923.

That portrait can been seen in the exhibition.

Drawing on Nature: Taki Katei’s Japan is separated in to five themes, looking at the hidden meanings and symbolism in Katei’s works, his techniques and his and his students’ practice toward perfection.

Katei was born in Edo (today’s Tokyo) in 1830, and as a young man he walked hundreds of miles to Nagasaki, on the coast of the island of Kyushu, which according to guest curator Dr Rosina Buckland was the only place where the Chinese were allowed to enter the country and trade in mid-19th Century Japan.

There he studied Chinese art forms with a Japanese painter.

“Katei lived through a time of tremendous change in Japan, where it embarked on a huge programme of modernisation,” she adds. “In 1851 he walks to Nagasaki, and by 1895 he is able to take a train to Kyoto where his work is being exhibited.”

Katei became one of the most successful artists of his generation and a master of the genre of bird-and-flower painting. In 1893, in recognition of his service to the imperial court and his great expertise, he was awarded the title “Imperial Household Artist” – and most of the works in the exhibition date from this period.

Curators Dr Rosina Buckland and Alex Blakeborough. Photo by Gareth Jones

He produced a large body of work in various formats, including hanging scrolls, albums, sliding doors, ceiling paintings and folding screens. Some of his designs were made into lacquerwares and metalwork.

Symbolism was an important part of his work and examples which celebrate long life, prosperity and good health can be seen throughout the exhibition.

Despite Katei’s fame during his lifetime, after the early 1920s, he largely disappeared from art history until the recent research of Dr Buckland.

She adds: “It’s remarkable the archive of such an important artist is available to us in Liverpool. We can learn so much about his process of making and also about the role of his student, Ishibashi Kazunori, in bringing these drawing to Britain.”

Drawing on Nature: Taki Katei’s Japan is at World Museum until April 13 2020. Tickets are £6 with concessions. More details HERE

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