Oka Shikanosuke

Photo of the artist 1973

Oka Shikanosuke 岡鹿之助 (1898-1978) 


Oka is primarily known for his romantic oil paintings of European scenery, including old castles and churches set within landscapes, and still lifes, particularly of pansies. He spent 14 years in France early on in his career, carefully studying the science and techniques of oil painting. His landscapes are "known for their carefully thought out compositions and exquisite brushwork . . . He repeatedly painted such subjects as abandoned canals, power plants in the snow, European relics and castles that seem like the concatenation of time itself, cozy stone churches, and pansies. Almost without exception, his landscapes are not painted from life. Instead these are imaginary landscapes, geometric constructions based on the Golden Mean."1 

Paris Street Corner, 1925

oil on board

21 x 25 in. (53.3 x 63.5 cm)

Power Plant in the Snow, 1956

oil on canvas

28 2/3 x 35 3/4 in. (72.8 x 90.9 cm.)

Artizon Museum

Flower Offering, 1967

oil on canvas


Brought up in Tokyo, his father was Oka Onitaro (1872-1943), theater critic and playwright. At the age of 14 while attending Azabu junior high school, he studied under the well-known Western-style painter (and sometime print maker) Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939), an acquaintance of his father. In 1919, Oka entered the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, graduating in 1924. Upon graduation, Oka, as did many young Japanese artists of the time, left for France, the “world capital of art.” In France he would exhibit at, and become a member of, the Société du Salon d’Automne2, winning a prize in their 1926 exhibition. Unlike many of his compatriots his stay in France was long, remaining there until being forced to return home in 1939 by the start of WWII. His long stay was, in part, due to his early recognition that much of his work and the work of his fellow Japanese painters was of poor quality and to improve his work he needed to dedicate himself to relearning the techniques of oil painting. “He began studying untiringly, carrying out research on paints and canvasses and soon realized three or four years would not be sufficient for his re-education."3 

Bank of the Seine, 1927

 60 x 73 cm

 oil on canvas

 Artizon Museum

Oka’s long stay in France was instrumental in forming his artistic style and he was most influenced by the French naïve Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) whose work he would later help to popularize in Japan. Much of Oka’s work can be seen as a tribute to Rousseau, whose “poetic sentiment” he incorporated. Other cited influences on his work are the the French symbolist painter Odilon Redon (1840-1916) and the French Post-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). While influenced by these artists, he was praised for his “wise and careful” borrowing of “only the principles behind their paintings”4 and maintaining a “delicate Japan-like sensibility”5 in his work.

As with many of the other Japanese artists in France he associated with members of the Ecole de Paris, including its only Japanese member, the painter Tsuguharu Fujita (Leonard Fujita) (1868-1968), in whose atelier he worked for a time.

Oka Shikanosuke (lower right) with the artist Toyosaku Saïto (1880-1951)

and his granddaughter Mitsuko at Venevelles, France

Source: http://toyosakusaito.weebly.com/

Upon his return home in 1940, via England and America, Oka became a member of the Shunyō-kai6, founded in 1922 to provide a forum and exhibition space for Western-style art. He would gain continual acclaim in succeeding years, receiving numerous awards and prizes, including the Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts in 1952, the Mainichi Art Award in 1957, and the Japan Art Academy Award in 1964. In 1969 he became a member of the Japan Art Academy and in 1972 he received the Order of Cultural Merit.7 

Returning to France several times after the War, much of his work was based on the old chateaus and churches he'd see traveling through France.

A Castle in the Forest, 1973

oil on canvas

28 3/4 x 35 3/4 in. (73 x 90.8 cm)

Menard Art Museum

Waterside Castle, 1973

oil on canvas,

15 x 17.9 in. (38 x 45.5 cm)

Passing away on April 28, 1978 in Tokyo, his work continues to be widely exhibited in Japan and his paintings, as well as some of his lithographs, can be found in the collections of the Bridgestone Museum of Art, the Hiroshima Museum of Art, the Menard Art Museum, the Yokohama Art Museum and the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Artist's Statement

Source: The Contemporary Artist in Japan, David Kung, East-West Center Press, Honolulu, 1966, p. 80.

My subject matter has been largely composed of temples, light houses, and landscapes in which no human beings are seen.  Now I want to paint landscapes which are fully animated.  Even if there is no trace of human figures, I want my landscape and buildings to be occupied by living souls.

Usually my subject evolves in my mind in much the same manner as a stew is slowly cooked.  As in cooking, timing is important - it should be neither too long nor too short.  Therefore the constant engagement of "croquis" is needed in my head.  As soon as I construct my imaginary subject, my painting is about 90 percent completed.  Drawing functions a a memo, in which there are letters as well as lines inscribed.  But I feel I should not translate my memos = that is, drawings - into a tableau, since that amounts only to copying.  A painting should not become a mere finished copy of one's design.

I am presently trying to reduce my number of colors in order to conserve my tender feelings toward my subject.  Brown in all its shades is most fitting to my personality, and I want to develop various color schemes using browns.

The Artist's Prints

While Merritt credits Oka with creating “lithographs and woodcuts of flowers, birds, and fish”8 it seems like all the woodcuts were created by print makers after Oka’s works.  Both the print artist and printer Okuyama Gihachirō (1907-1981) and the Kato Print Institute [Kato hanga kenkyūjo 加藤版画研究所]9 created prints after famous Oka paintings, with the Kato Print Institute issuing a series of prints in two portfolios in the years 1970 and 1973, shown below.  Okuyama seems to have created only one print based on an Oka painting, also shown below.  The only lithographs of the artist’s that I’m aware of are two multiple print portfolios, one issued in the mid-1950s and listed, but not illustrated, in the collection of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (P0004-010) and the other containing seven prints published by Suita Bōeki in 1974 and also shown below.

Woodblock Prints

Prints Published by Kato Print Institute


click on image to enlarge

top: 岡鹿之助 第一輯 版画集 

昭和45年9月 [September 1970] 

150 組限定 エンピツサイン 番号 入り 


(人間国宝 岩野市兵衛 手漉) 

帙入り 5枚1組 


[洋梨」Pears [folio cover] 

1.「三色すみれ」Tri-color Violets 

...2.「古城」Old Fortress] 

3.「林間の城」[Castle in the Forest] 



bottom: 岡鹿之助 第二輯 版画集

昭和48年11月[December 1973]

150組限定 エンピツサイン 番号 入り


(人間国宝 岩野市兵衛 手漉)

帙入り 5枚1組



1.「三色すみれ」Tri-color Violets

2.「村の発電所」Village Power Station

3.「残雪の牧場」Remaining Snow at the Farm

4.「水辺の城」Waterside Castle

5.「赤い城」Red Castle 

Prints Published by

Okuyama Gihachirō

click on image to enlarge

Power Plant in Snow

carved and printed by Okuyama Gihachirō, 1968, ed 100

36.5x48 cm


Prints Published by Suita Bōeki

Set of 7 lithographs, 1974

The print collection of Oka Shikanosuke. 


each print 53 x 45 cm.

click on images to enlarge

Recent Exhibition

Source: http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/en/exhibitions/archive/2008/ [no longer accesiable [11-25-23] 

Bridgestone Museum of Art - Shikanosuke Oka: Variations in Serenity 26 April - 6 July 2008

"This exhibition spans the career of the figurative painter Oka Shikanosuke with works from his early years to his very last paintings. To display his oeuvre, the works have been grouped along nine themes that continued to occupy Oka during his artistic career. The painting style that Oka developed during the 1920s while living and working in Paris and Brittany would not change dramatically throughout his life. However, his intrepid pursuit of adventurous new artistic challenges and his passion for consistently higher levels attainment in his painting represent achievements that cannot be ignored. Exploring these elements in this exhibition gives us a fine opportunity to rediscover the art of Oka Shikanosuke." 

click on image to enlarge

click on image to enlarge

1 Quoted text originally appeared on the site of the Bridgestone Museum of Art, now the Artizon Museum of Art. The original quoted text is no longer accessible.

2 The Salon d’Automne was formed in opposition to the conservative polices of the official Paris Salon.

3 "Contemporary Artists in Japan: Oka Shikanosuke and Wakita Kazu," KAZU Ogawa, Masataka appearing in, Japan Quarterly 23.1  (Jan 1, 1976): 75. 

4 ibid.

5 Studio International, vol 148 Studio Trust, 1954 p. 42 Publisher:London, National Magazine Co., etc.

6 The “Shunyo-kai”(the Shunyo-kai Art Society), currently with a membership of more than 600 painters and printmakers, was established in 1922 by Hoan Kosugi and Tsunetomo Morita of the Nihon Bijitsuin, the Sodosha Group’s Ryusei Kishida and Kazumasa Nakagawa, and Ryuzaburo Unmehara. The Society's stated goal is "to promote 'individualism' within the context and tradition of Japan." Member's have included the painters Shikanosuke Oka and Tai Nakatani and printmakers such as Kiyoshi Saito and Naobumi Seimiya. http://shunyo-kai.or.jp/about/ [accessed 11-25-23]

7 About the Order of Culture (Bunka-Kunsho) - "The Order of Culture is a Japanese Order presented to practitioners of the arts and sciences by the Emperor of Japan himself. The Order is reserved for only the most influential people that have contributed significantly to the cultural history of Japan." 

http://www.hotelokura.co.jp/tokyo/en/material/pdf/press_release/hot_0608.pdf [no longer accessible 11-25-23]

8 Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 117.

last revision:


Prints in Collection

click on thumbnail for print details