Sōtatsu: Making Waves

Tiantan in the Clouds

Tiantan in the CloudsThe Tiantian Tower in Beijing is a sacred site, where Ming and Qing emperors conducted rituals that honored heaven. Umehara was one of many Japanese artists who found thematic inspiration in travels to China, especially in the 1930s. Trained by Asai Chū (1856–1907), one of the first Japanese artists to study oil painting in Europe, Umehara also resided in France for five years, studying with Renoir and absorbing impressionism firsthand. After World War I, he pursued a unique form of oil painting that incorporated traditional Japanese media, such as gold paint and mineral pigment, and established a decorative idiom that joined East to West. Here, Umehara’s bold composition, distortion of forms, and rhythmic patterns capture the essence of Sōtatsu’s work. Described on one occasion as the “Sōtatsu of modern oil painting,” Umehara was a diligent student of works by the seventeenth-century artist and his contemporaries. He owned a small Sōtatsu painting on decorative paper.

Tiantan in the Clouds
Umehara Ryūzaburō (1888–1986)
Japan, 1939
Oil on canvas
National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 000188

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