Watanabe (Shotei) Seitei, (1851-1918)

Dove and Snow Peonies
(Secchu Onbotan ni Hato)

hanging scroll, ink and color on silk; dated and signed, Meiji ko-shin sai ki (Meiji 37 [1904]) Seitei ga jin, with two artist's seals, Seitei, and one seal unread; accompanied by tomobako with title, Secchu onbotan ni hato, and signed Seitei ga

painting 43 3/4 by 16 1/8 in., 111.2 by 40.9 cm
overall 78 by 23 3/8 in., 198 by 59.3 cm

Watanabe Seitei was born Yoshikawa Yoshimata in Edo (Tokyo), and began training with the artist Kikuchi Yosai (1788-1878) at the age of sixteen, followed by a brief period in the studio of the painter and lacquer artist, Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891). Six years later he was adopted by a literary friend of the family, Watanabe Koshi. In 1878 he travelled to the United States and Europe where he received a silver metal for a painting he submitted to the Paris Exposition. He remained in Paris for three years and became the first Nihonga artist to reside in Europe to study Western painting.

When he returned from Europe he became well-known for his sensitive kacho-ga (bird & flower) images which utilized Japanese techniques while incorporating some Western sensibilities. Seitei produced designs for ceramics and cloisonné, most notably in collaboration with the cloisonné artist Namikawa Sosuke (1847-1910), which brought him even more recognition abroad. He was also a prolific painter and illustrator, publishing three notable albums: Seitei kacho gafu ('Picture album of Seitei's bird and flower'), 1890-91; Kacho gafu ('Bird and flower album'), 1903; and the last series published in 1916 (not to be confused with the 1890-91 album of the same name) Seitei kacho gafu.

Throughout his career he received awards for his work, both in Japan and at international expositions. He was a major influence on the next generation of Nihonga artists, including Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) and Kaburagi Kiyokata (1878-1973).

Although the subject of peonies with doves is clearly classic kacho-ga, the pairing with a winter peony (fuyu botan) in particular is suggestive of a bijin subject. The dove is symbolic of marital fidelity and fertility, while the image of a winter peony has also been used as an allusion to (or comparison with) a bijin in the snow in classic ukiyo-e and 20th century shin-hanga. Perhaps the most famous example is the 1931 woodblock print by Torii Kotondo (1900-1976), Peony Snow (Botan Yuki). The term botan yuki is also a metaphor for very large snowflakes.

Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, pp. 166-167
Ellen P. Conant, Steven D. Owyoung, J. Thomas Rimer, Nihonga: Transcending the Past: Japanese-Style Painting, 1868-1968, The Saint Louis Art Museum, 1995, p. 329



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site last updated
October 14, 2021

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475