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Biography: NAKAGAWA Kazumasa (中川一政)

Nakagawa Kazumasa portrait
Nakagawa Kazumasa (1893-1991)
Photo by Kojô Okabatake

Fukazawa Sakuichi signature
Artist Seal: "Kazumasa" (一政)


Azechi Umetaro mountaineer with birdNakagawa Kazumasa (中川一政 1893-1991), born in Tokyo, was the son of Nakagawa Masatomo (中川政朝), a policeman from a family of swordsmiths, and Suwa, who came from a farming family. Early on, he demonstrated talent for poetry, composing tanka (短歌 31-syllable poems) and haiku (俳句 17-syllable poems), three of which were included in a collection of poetry, Hakkô, by the controversial female author and poet Yosano Akiko's (与謝野晶子 1878-1942) in 1908. Nakagawa also wrote short stories and novels while still in school.

Having graduated from Kinjo Junior High School at age nineteen in March 1912, he faced an uncertain future, but after seeing reproductions of paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne in the coterie art magazine Shirakaba (White Birch, 白樺 1910-1923), he became a primarily self-taught yôga-shi (Western-style painter, 洋画師). Before long, he was exhibiting with art societies in the 1910s, including Fyûzankai (Society of the Refused, フュウザン会 founded in 1912), Nikakai (Second Division Society, 二科会 founded in 1914), and the Sôdosha (Grass and Soil Society, 草土社). His earliest surviving painting, an oil on board titled Sakagura (Sake brewery, 酒倉 [酒蔵]), dates to 1914. It was praised by the Western-style painter Kishida Ryûsei (岸田劉生 1891-1929) when it was shown that year at the Japanese-style painting exhibition of the Tatsumi Gakai (Southeast Painting Society, 东南绘画学会) held in Ueno Park, Tokyo for which Kishida served as a judge. Nakagawa's oil on canvas titled Shimo no tokerumichi ("Frost thawing on the road" 霜のとける道), was awarded second prize by the same Tatsumi Gakai the following year. For a time, Nakagawa lived in the Kishida household and probably received some informal guidance on painting in the Western style. From 1922, he began showing at Sôdosha's successor organization called the Shun'yôkai (Spring Principle Association, 春陽会 founded in 1922).

In addition to oil paintings, Nakagawa produced sumi (black ink) drawings, watercolors, traditional calligraphy, book illustrations and graphic designs, carved seals, ceramics, and woodcuts. He also wrote about his art, perhaps the best known and most influential work being the essay Nihonga o dô miru (How to look at Japanese painting, 日本画をどう見る) published in 1947 in the magazine Sansai, in which Nakagawa argued for the vitality, honesty, and individualistic expressiveness of Western painting (yôga, 洋画) versus tradition-bound, Japanese-style painting (Nihonga, 日本画) that, in his view, looked backward to past masters for its technical achievements at the expense =of creativity or new directions in art. In regard to woodcuts, many of which were intended as book covers and illustrations, it appears that Nakagawa did not carve his own blocks. For example, in 1947 he contributed a design of two roosters (carved by Sekino Jun'ichirô) for the artist-signatures page in the third portfolio issued by the Onchi Kôshirô-led Ichimokukai (First Thursday Society, 一木会). Moreover, most of his prints were lithographs and copperplate etchings (some with aquatint), often produced at the Kurumaki Studios (Kurumaki Kôbô, 車木工房) in Nara.

In 1975, at the age of 82, Nakagawa was awarded the prestigious Order of Culture (Bunka-kunshô, 文化勲章) for contributions to Japanese art, literature, or culture. The order is conferred by the Emperor of Japan in person on Culture Day (November 3) each year. His mother's native town of Matto City (now Hakusan City) in Ishikawa Prefecture and his home town of Manazuru in Kanagawa Prefecture each established museums dedicated to his work, in October 1986 and March 1989, respectively..

Works by Nakagawa Kazumasa are included in the Fukuoka Art Museum (paintings); the Matto Nakagawa Kazumasa Memorial Museum of Art (including paintings, calligraphy, pottery); and the Nakagawa Kazumasa Museum of Art, Manazuru Town (oil painting, ink rock painting, sketches, calligraphy, ceramics, illustrations, and book binding).

  1. Lavenberg, Irwin: Nakagawa Kazumasa — "A Passion for Creativity" (last accessed Sept. 17, 2022), which provides a compilation of biographical information and images.
  2. German Wikipedia site for the artist,
  3. Hakusan Museum Portal Site, Matto Nakagawa Kazumasa Memorial Museum of Art.
  4. Nakagawa Kazumasa Memorial Museum of Art,