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Robert and Lisa Sainsbury fellows

Koto Sadamura

Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow 2021 - 2022

PhD, University of Tokyo, 2020

Koto Sadamura specialises in Japanese art history of the late nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the painter Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889). Her Ph.D. thesis examines the importance of comic and satirical pictures (kyōga) in the development of Kyōsai’s art during the transition from the Edo period (1603–1868) to the Meiji era (1868–1912).

At the Sainsbury Institute, she will work on a monograph manuscript based on her thesis which challenges the tendency in Japanese scholarship on Kyōsai to dismiss kyōga as secondary and unworthy of serious study. Introducing elements of comic works into the highly finished paintings of classical or religious subjects (honga), Kyōsai overcame the conventional boundaries and hierarchy of the pictorial arts, engaged with the contemporary, secular world in ‘high-culture’ paintings, and imparted his own experiences and emotions into his art. Koto’s thesis discusses the different ways in which kyōga fundamentally influenced Kyōsai’s works, and demonstrates that it is essential to recognise and consider this impact in order to understand the artist and the significance of his art in the historical context of the late nineteenth century.

Alongside the thesis publication project, Koto is curating the exhibition ‘Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection’, which will be held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London between 19 March–19 June 2022. The show has a special focus on impromptu paintings (sekiga), which have a close relation to kyōga, as many of the extemporaneous paintings Kyōsai produced were comic and satirical.

Selected Publications

She has published extensively on Kyōsai, both in Japanese and in English. Publications in the English language include:

  • Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection, London: Royal Academy of Arts, to be published in March 2022.
  • ‘Return of the Demons: The Power of Kyōsai’s Brush’’ in Manga, ed. Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere and Matsuba Ryoko, London: Thames and Hudson, 2019, pp. 288–297.
  • Kyōsai shunga (Sex and Laughter with Kyōsai: Shunga Works from the Israel Goldman Collection), co-authored with Aki Ishigami, Kyoto: Seigensha, 2017.