Kanagawa: Kazumasa Nakagawa, an artist inspired by nature

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
A pottery work by Nakagawa, left, Curator Shiho Kato gestures toward “Komagatake” by Kazumasa Nakagawa at the Nakagawa Kazumasa Art Museum in Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Visitors to the Nakagawa Kazumasa Art Museum in Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture, are able to appreciate works by Kazumasa Nakagawa (1893-1992), who is also known in other art media such as book cover illustrations.

An acquaintance presented the Western-style painter, who was born in the Hongo area of Tokyo, with an oil painting set when he was 21.

Nakagawa used the items to paint “Sakagura” (sake storehouse) in Kobe where he was staying at the time. He submitted the work to the Tatsumigakai Exhibition, which at the time served as a gateway for young artists to make a name for themselves.

The painting was accepted and earned a prize, acknowledged by artist Ryusei Kishida on the panel of judges. The following year, the work Nakagawa submitted won the top prize at the same exhibition.

After World War II, he became a leading figure in the Western art scene. Nakagawa acquired a studio in the town of Manazuru and continued to produce paintings, which were inspired by vast nature in the area.

In the exhibition space on the second floor of the museum, visitors can see the large painting “Komagatake” (Mt. Komagatake), which was completed in 1982 when Nakagawa was 89. The painting, which measures 162 centimeters wide and 130 centimeters high, depicts a landscape in Hakone in the prefecture.

Even at an advanced age, Nakagawa insisted on viewing the actual subject matter in person when painting anything, refusing to rely on photographs or imagination. He reportedly toted a heavy set of his paint utensils to the location and sketched the landscape for this project.

“He took ‘living art’ very seriously and always challenged himself to do better,” said museum curator Shiho Kato.

Nakagawa befriended writers, such as Saneatsu Mushanokoji and Kuniko Mukoda, and designed some of their book covers, which are part of the museum’s exhibits. He also created many paintings featuring calligraphy.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Books with covers painted by Nakagawa

“He used to proudly call them ‘a harmony of calligraphy and painting,’ and believed that his art wouldn’t stand with either paintings or calligraphy alone,” Kato explained.

Nakagawa’s pursuit of art extended into pottery, writing and the design of picture frames. His versatile talent is indeed amazing.

The museum features his works from various genres, putting them out for the public in displays that occasionally offer a fresh perspective. The facility is currently exhibiting works selected under the theme, “Gaku mo E no uchi!” (Frames are part of pictures).

The exhibition runs through Dec. 20.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
“Sakana, kogiidete” (1983) features calligraphy of Nakagawa’s own tanka poem.

Visitors can also access a room for the tea ceremony that was added to the museum at Nakagawa’s request. He was constantly with a paint brush in his hand until his last breath at 97. Even when he was hospitalized shortly before his death, he apparently was observed maneuvering his hand, as if he were painting something on the ceiling.

Hanging inside the tea ceremony room is a scroll written in calligraphy with the words “Manshin nenriki” (Full body thought power) brushed by himself. The space is a place where visitors can feel the devotion and intensity of an artist who put all his body and soul into creating his art.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nakagawa Kazumasa Art Museum

The museum opened in 1989 as a facility run by the town of Manazuru, where Nakagawa had a studio. It is about a 15-minute bus ride from JR Manazuru Station.

Address: 1178-1 Manazuru, Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last admission accepted at 3:30 p.m.). Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays, unless those days are not a national holiday. When a Thursday is a national holiday, it is closed on Friday.

Admission: ¥600 for adult, ¥350 for children high school age and younger