World of Saeki Yuzo

SAEKI Yuzo (1898-1928): painter born in Osaka who died young in Paris, aged only 30.
The collection of Saeki’s paintings in the Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka traces the life and work of this prominent artist who was inspired by Paris cityscapes.

Yuzo Saeki

Saeki is considered as one of the most noteworthy artists of modern painting in Japan. He went to Paris and pictured its cityscapes with passion and poetic sentiment. Although he died young at the age of 30, the works that he had poured all his energies into attract a number of ardent admirers today, including many in the younger generation.

Born in Osaka as the second son of a venerable temple family, Saeki studied academic art in Tokyo, then moved to Paris with his wife and daughter. On showing a nude painted at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière to Maurice de Vlaminck—a leading Fauvist who Saeki admired—he was shocked when Vlaminck severely criticized it as “Academic!” After that, Saeki pursued his own art, with some influence from Vincent Van Gogh and Maurice Utrillo, and eventually discovered his theme in the stone buildings of Paris.

He settled in a studio in the 14th district near the Gare Montparnasse station, then set up his easel at the corners of Paris back streets and painted intensely, capturing common downtown scenes such as local restaurants, shops and apartments, with a vigorous but delicate touch. His work was selected to be part of the Salon d’Automne. He spent fruitful and creative days in France, until being called back to Japan by his mother.

His accomplishments during two years in France were welcomed with fervent praise by the art circle in his home country, and his future as a painter appeared promising. However, Saeki could find no inspiring motif to paint in Japan, and desperately wished to go back to Paris. In 1927, he visited France again, this time with health and financial concerns. During his second stay in Paris, Saeki worked restlessly as if he knew that he did not have much time left, and created splendid works one after another, including the series of café restaurants. His works of this period can be characterized by sharp-angled compositions and depictions of letters on shop signs and posters, painted with a springy touch. His health deteriorated after having painted intensively in Paris and its suburb of Villiers-sur-Morin, and his life of thirty years and three months ended in France. Saeki was struck down by a serious illness shortly after his paintings began to sell, and died as an unknown painter. Nevertheless, we find depth in his paintings, created by a painter who pushed himself harshly to be pure as an artist; today his works are highly acclaimed.

The collection of Saeki Yuzo’s works in the Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka amounts to 56 pieces, the largest collection in Japan. Saeki in his daily life was open-minded and frank, a typical characteristic of people in Osaka, loved by a lot of friends, and as an artist kept a delicate and prodigious earnestness. Through his representation of deserted backstreet scenes of Paris, filled with poesy and beauty, even today we can feel the pull of that city of art and touch the soul of this superb artist.

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