Tomita Keisen

Undated photo of the artist

Tomita Keisen 冨田溪仙 (1879-1936) 


Tomita Keisen was born in Hakata (present day Fukuoka) into a family of well-off noodle merchants. His given name was Shigegorō 鎮五郎. At the age of 12 he began studying Kanō school painting with Kinugasa Morimasa (Tankoku) (1852-1912). At the age of 17, after the closing of the family business, he travelled to Kyoto to apprentice with the Shijō style painter Tsuji Kakō (1871-1931). He also studied Heian Buddhist painting and nanga (traditional Japanese painting). He exhibited in the official Bunten, Teiten and Inten exhibitions. He exhibited paintings with Saiko Nihon Bijutsuin (Reorganized Japan Fine Art Academy) in 1915, and became a member in 1916. He is credited with creating a new style of kachō-ga and was one of the foremost painters of his generation. 

"Keisen combined aspects of various Japanese painting styles—literati, yamato-e, shijo, zen, rinpa—with Western expressionism to achieve his poetic effects and still-apparent originality."1

The Seattle Asian Art Museum notes that the artist "had an unconventional personality, which reflected both in his practice of Zen and his fondness for drinking and wild nightlife." He died at the height of his career of a cerebral hemorrhage, possibly brought on by his lifestyle.

1 Website of the New York gallery Japanese Modernism [accessed 12-20-23]

Ubune (Cormorant Fishing Boats)


sumi on paper/hanging scroll

199.0×77.0 cm

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto


Ubune - First Painting Admitted to Bunten Exhibition

Source: Abstract in English from "The enlightenment of Keisen" (Papers Read at the 3rd National Congress) [in Japanese], FURUKAWA Toshitsugu, appearing in the journal of The Japanese Society for Aesthetic, Volume 33, Dec. 31, 1982.
Tomita Keisen (1879, Fukuoka-1936, Kyoto) was a unique painter active in the Inten of Taisho and early Showa eras. Trained in the Kano and Shijo School traditions, Keisen was well versed in the traditional style of painting. After about 10 years of trial and error, he established his own style with Ubune (Cormorant Fishing Boats), which was the first painting ever admitted to the Bunten in 1912 and brought him fame. About one hundred sketchbooks and notebooks (diary, comments on art and sketches) of the period remain and show a decisive role of his traveling experiences (six trips in fourteen years) in establishing his personal style. His Taishinmanga-kiko painted in haiku-picture style after his trip to Taiwan and the South of China in 1909 was highly praised by haiku poet, Kawahigashi Hekigodo, thereby Keisen was much encouraged to pursue in this direction. But he gradually experienced a stylistic change from haiku-picture-like expressions towards those of nanga style. Yet what made him unique is that he did not depend on old, conventional and patternized motifs inherent in nanga paintings, but on sketches drawn on the spot. To liberate himself from the long-established traditionalism, Keisen had recourse to his traveling experiences, and his rough and rapid ink sketches based on his nature observation were employed to compose exhibition pieces of which the first instance was Ubune. 

Exhibition "Tomita Keisen Commemorating the 130th Anniversary of His Birth"

Fukuoka Art Museum October 10 - November 23, 2009.

Tomita Keisen 冨田溪仙 (1879 - 1936) born in Hakata, was an active Japanese-style artist living in Kyoto. Yokoyama Taikan acknowledged his talent. Although Tomita Keisen was living in Kyoto, he exhibited his works at Inten Exhibition in Tokyo, and he imbued the Japanese art world with his unique talent in the Taisho and Showa periods in Japan. It has been approximately 30 years since a grand-scale retrospective exhibition was held in his hometown and will comprehensively introduce his lifetime representative works. It will present great opportunities of reconfirming the fascination manifested in his broad-minded free spirit and the significance of it.

Exhibition flier

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Exhibition flier

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Sample Signatures and Seals of the Artist

signed 渓山 人 Keizan jin with unread seal

signed 渓 人 Keizan jin with unread seal

signed 渓仙 Keisen with unread seal

signed 渓仙 Keisen with unread seal

signed 渓仙 Keisen with unread seal

signed 渓 Kei with unread seal

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Prints in Collection

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