Spontaneous and Playful: Kawanabe Kyōsai as a Performer

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 21 April, 2022
6:00pm BST - 7:00pm BST

Online lecture, via Zoom.
50 min lecture followed by Q&A.
Free and open to all, booking essential.
To check your time zone conversion if you are joining from outside the UK, click here.


Dr Sadamura Koto (Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow 2021-2022)

Watch the Talk

About the Talk

Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889) was one of the most celebrated artists of late nineteenth-century Japan. Besides being a highly accomplished painter, one of the skills which made him exceptionally popular was his speedy and masterful impromptu paintings. In nineteenth-century Japan, artists often produced extemporaneous works in front of an audience, and the creative process was appreciated as a performance. Spontaneous paintings (sekiga) were performed in a variety of settings: at private gatherings among friends and acquaintances; as entertainment for special guests such as a person in authority or a foreign visitor, and at public ‘calligraphy and painting parties’ called shogakai. These parties were commercially organised and were usually held in a large, open room at a restaurant. Attendees would pay for admission, and once inside, they could ask the artists to create works for them at no extra charge. Food and drinks were served, and Kyōsai often performed under the influence of saké. As he drank, his untrammelled brush became bolder, wilder and more playful. People were delighted in Kyōsai’s rapid, skilful and witty performances. Spontaneous paintings are one of the themes of the current exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, ‘Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection’, curated by the speaker. This talk explores this lesser-known yet exciting aspect of Japanese art, with a brief overview of its history and a focus on Kyōsai’s art.

About the Speaker

Koto Sadamura, PH.D., is a current Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute and a Visiting Researcher in the Department of Asia, British Museum. She is the curator of the exhibition ‘Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection’, held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London between 19 March–19 June 2022. Koto specialises in Japanese art history of the late nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the painter Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889). She has published extensively on the artist, both in Japanese and in English. Publications in the English language include Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection (London: Royal Academy of Art, 2022), Kyōsai’s Animal Circus (London: Royal Academy of Art, 2022), and ‘Return of the Demons: The Power of Kyōsai’s Brush’ (in Manga, ed. Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere and Matsuba Ryoko, London: Thames and Hudson, 2019).

Image: Kawanabe Kyōsai and 54 other artists, Calligraphy and Painting Party (Shogakai) (detail), c. May 1876–spring 1878. Hanging scroll; ink and light colour on paper, 131.5 x 65.5 cm. Israel Goldman Collection, London. Photo: Ken Adlard

Add to iCalendar / Add to Google calendar

The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.