Hamada Kan: An Authority in the Painting World of Kyoto. A Great Master of Bird-and-Flower Painting.

Opium Poppies

Opium Poppies by Hamada Kan
Opium Poppies by Hamada Kan

Depending on the artist, there are two types that are the ones who broaden the subject to be drawn and the other ones who limit it to countable numbers. Hamada Kan who was regarded as a leading painter of bird-and-flower painting belonged to the latter ones. As the matters of facts, there were quite a few numbers of the subjects such as opium poppy, peony, lotus pond, and carp when looking back his painting works. Behind the volitional power to challenge the same subject over and over digging in the works concentratedly and the Kyoto-styled elegance that looks gentle, a strict line runs through, which may be said the typical bird-and-flower painting that Hamada Kan drew.

Hamada Kan who was born in 1898 in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture had gone to Kobe and studied Japanese-style painting since he was a young man while living in working as a houseboy. He engaged in commercial designs to earn money for studying painting in Osaka for 10 years since he was 21 years old afterward. He entered “Chikujōkai” that was a private painting school hosted by Takeuchi Seihō in Kyoto to produce Japanese-style paintings at full scale, which was when he became 31 years old onward. He entered the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting (the predecessor of the Kyoto University of the Art) while he attended the painting school. He was accepted for the 14th Teiten Exhibition his first time ever while in school in 1934. He was already 36 years old at that time for the first prize, which might mean that he started a little late as a painter. It was after the World War II that he was awarded the special selection his first time ever. The first time that he was awarded the special selection was at the 3rd the Japan Art Exhibition in 1938 and the 2nd time was at the 5th same exhibition in 1949. Afterwards, he was honored to receive the Prize of the Minister in 1963 and do the Award of the Japan Art Academy in 1965. He was recommended to be chosen as a Kyoto Prefecture Culture Contributor and Kyoto City Culture Contributor. Also, he held a director of the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition and became the Senior Counselor and the Advisor of the same association.

“Opium Poppies” featured herein was one of the representative pieces of his works in the first-half period of the Hamada art, exhibited at the Bunten Exhibition to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of Japan in 1940 and received the Welkin Prize as well as purchased by Kyoto City. Wild opium poppies that may look having something eerie vitality are depicted fully on the horizontally long and wide screen whose dimension is 2m (78.7 inch) longitudinally and 3.75m (147.6 inch) horizontally. The opium poppies radiate even a surreal atmosphere while they were drawn based on sketching, which may make the surrounding air breathes freshly.

Peony

Peony by Hamada Kan
Peony by Hamada Kan

Although so many painters who have drawn flowers have appeared, the number should have been limited when it comes to the painters who have taken in the airs and atmospheres around the flowers for their paintings. Hamada Kan who was an authority in the painting world of Kyoto must have been said to be the one among such limited painters. Hundreds kinds of plants that his wife cultivated with loving care were flowered per seasons around his home at the foot of Mt. Kinugasayama, which could be the best sketching materials for him. Speaking of sketching, the attitude of Hamada Kan for it was very strict. For example, it is expressed in “Peony” produced in 1959.

“I got out of an inn at midnight around 1 o’clock and went to a peony field to see around the flowers sitting on a stepladder. Then, the peonies talked to me. I was surprised to know they can speak. I was willing to respond and talk to them. In the meantime, we had the conversation for two hours, the peonies’ leaves which had looked black so far turned white. I couldn’t resist the beauty although it’s a very short time. It looked really divine. That’s the reason and background I drew the picture”. That was what Hamada Kan once said. He exhibited the other peony picture whose drawing pattern is almost the same as this at the Japan Art Exhibition. He concentrated on bird-and-flower painting consistently. Among them, pictures of peony and opium poppy outnumbered the other subjects particularly. He finished the painting of the pictures for a moment when those flowers showed the mysterious looks in the darkness where the dawns did not yet come up. There is a world where nature and human breathing are perfectly united.

A Flower at Noon (Opium Poppy)

A Flower at Noon (Opium Poppy) by Hamada Kan
A Flower at Noon (Opium Poppy) by Hamada Kan

Hamada Kan can show us the mood of the painting, which looks deep and shining black as an authority of bird-and-flower painting. It could be oozed from his accumulated painting works that were not always uneventful.

He was born in 1898 in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. When he was young, he went to Kobe and lived in working as a houseboy in a residence of a Japanese-style painter who belonged to Shijō school. After that, he engaged in commercial design works in Osaka for about 10 years in order to establish a solid foundation for his life. Consequently, he already became over 30 years old when he went to Kyoto and entered “Chikujōkai” (a private painting school hosted by Takeuchi Seihō) to draw Japanese style-paintings at full scale worshipping Takeuchi Seihō. In 1934, a work that he exhibited at the Teiten Exhibition was accepted his first time ever. It was the year when his eldest son, Hamada Shōji (who is a Japanese-style painter also and a member of the Japan Art Exhibition currently) entered an elementary school and Kan himself also entered Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting (currently Kyoto University of the Art), which means he started so late to be a painter. Hamada Kan, who is sometimes said to be a fool for sketching concentrated on bird-and-flower painting consistently and kept on facing the productions without any gimmicks. He was awarded the special selection at the Japan Art Exhibition. in 1946. He was done the special selection again at the same exhibition two years later. He won the Award of the Japan Art Academy in 1965.

This picture entitled “A Flower at Noon” is a work exhibited at the 5th Japan Art Exhibition. in 1973. Making use of the space on the large screen, one stem of the opium poppy which looks like something eerie is growing up in a relaxed manner. Hamada Kan pursued subtle variations of looks while changing the times for the sketching even he drew the same one motif. The opium poppy on this picture was also drawn by observing the substance of the opium poppy from various angles in the time from early morning to noon and taking the surrounding air in the sketching.