Who was Asai Chu?
Asai Chu, the famous landscape painter of the Meiji period and of the founder members of Meiji Bijutsukai, is one of the greatest oil painters that Japan has ever had. Born into a Samurai family, Asai Chu was formally trained in Japanese bird-and-flower painting, better known as ‘kachoga’ in ‘Nanga’ style, but turned later to oil painting and at the age of 19. He joined the Shogido, a private school of Western-style painting and spent a good part of his life honing his skills. His trip to Europe proved to be very influential and a lighter one replaced his dark and heavy palette once he returned. From being a magnificent painter to a professor in various institutes, he was a well-rounded artisan. Asai was also a very active member when it came to organizing and introducing various interest groups. Dwelling in many realms of art, Asai was a good mentor and he instilled various techniques in his students who turned out to be great painters. Read the biography to get a better insight into the life of Asai Chu.
Asai Chu’s Childhood And Early Life
Asai Chu was born in Sakura, in the Kanto region to an ex-samurai class. His father was a retainer of the Sakura clan. Chu attended a school in Sakura itself where his father was the principal. In 1873, he left for Tokyo in order to learn English, but got interested in arts and became a pupil of Shinkuro Kunisawa. He enrolled in western oil painting classes there. Asai enrolled in Kobu Bijutsu Gakko (the Technical Fine Arts School) in 1876 and studied under the Italian foreign minister Antonio Fontanesi. The Meiji government had hired Antonio Fontanesi in 1870s to introduce western oil painting to Japan.
Asai established the Meiji Art Society i.e. Meiji Bijutsukai in 1889. It was the first group of western style painters in Japan. In 1898, Chu became a professor of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and worked there until his trip to France. Chu spent two years there working on his painting techniques. He was sent by the Japanese government to attend the Exposition Universelle in which his work and the work of other Japanese artists were featured. He was fascinated by the Art Nouveau style in Japan and transmitted this style of art back to Japan. On his return to Japan in 1902, this style of art had become quite popular on postcards and other graphic arts also. In addition, Asai’s muddy palette was replaced with a lighter one on his return from France. During his stay in Paris, he happened to meet Nakazawa Iwata, who wanted to open Kyoto college of Technology. So on his return to Japan, Asai was made a professor at the Kyoto school of Arts and Crafts in 1902. He also founded the Kansai Arts Institute the same year.
Asai’s activities extended beyond just teaching at the Kyoto School of Arts And Crafts. He formed the Yutoen group with young ceramic artists and with lacquer ware artisans. He also started the Kyoshitsuen group, where the artist started work with a new sense of fashion. The Kansai artists who looked up to Asai as an impressive western painter started the Shogoin Western Art Research Center and Kansai Bijyutsuin. There they looked up to producing work and educating other artists regarding Western paintings. Three well-known painters who Asai taught at the Kansai Bijyutsuin were Umehara Ryuzaburo, Yasui Sotaro, and Suda Kunitaro.
In the final year of his life in 1907, Asai became the judge for the first national Ministry of Education sponsored art exhibition. He also established the Kyundo where ceramics by his original designs were made.
Asai Chu married Yasuko, younger sister of Naoshi Tatsumi, clansman of the former Sakura clan in October, 1893.
Death And Legacy
Asai passed away at the age of 52 on December 16, 1907. Many of Asai works are deemed to be important and the “Agency For Cultural Affairs” in Japan, recognizes them as “Important Cultural Properties”.