Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 26, 2012

Komatsu Hitoshi: Hermit Painter from Ohara (Museums)

Komatsu Hitoshi (1902-1989) is an interesting nihonga painter to whom a small gallery has been dedicated in Ohara, on the road leading to Jakkoin and Sanzenin, in the northern part of Kyoto. We visit on a cold day, when snow covers the fields.

Komatsu Hitoshi Museum, Kyoto
[Entrance of Komatsu Hitoshi Gallery. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

Komatsu Hitoshi was born in Yamagata Prefecture. In 1920 he moved to Tokyo to become a painter, but after winning a prize at an exhibition in Kyoto, he settled down in the old capital. He studied under renowned renovator Tsuchida Bakusen and later exhibited at the Inten, the largest exhibition of Japanese-style paintings. Living a secluded life in Ohara from age 25 until his death almost 65 years later, and sporting a long, snow-white beard, people considered him as a typical hermit painter.

Komatsu Hitoshi made his most characteristic paintings in a sort of pointillist sumie (Indian ink) style. He is famous for his panoramic screens of the Mogami River or the scenery of Ohara, enormous canvasses which he painted in meticulous detail.

The Komatsu Hitoshi Gallery consists of a few simple structures (partly the painter’s refurbished residence) and the paintings have unfortunately been harmed a bit by dampness and perhaps the fact that they are exhibited for too long periods at a stretch (we are talking about Japanese-style paintings, made on paper with mineral paints), but this museum offers an interesting glimpse into the world of a delicate artist.

Besides the monochrome works, there is also a uniquely colorful painting of an Ohara-me, a young woman from Ohara carrying vegetables in a basket on her head.

When we leave the last of the four galleries, which is dedicated to the person of Komatsu Hitoshi and also has his portrait on an altar, and step through the small garden, it is as if we meet a sudden apparition: a hermit with a long white beard is chopping wood, looks up, smiles at us. As if the portrait has come alive...

Automatically, we greet back, flabbergasted we walk on, but decide it must be the son of the painter... or the grandson? ...without knowing whether he had a son.

Who else could it have been?
Tel: 075-744-2318
Hrs: 10:00-17:00; CL Mon, NY. The museum is now only open on appointment, so call in advance!
Fee: 800 yen.
Access: Take Kyoto bus 17 or 18 from Kyoto St to Ohara and get off at Todera; then a 15 min walk through the fields on the side of the bus stop).