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Reiji Hiramatsu - Master of Japanese Painting: Reflecting on His Long Career

Reiji Hiramatsu was born in 1941 in Tokyo. At fifty-three years old, he was deeply moved by Water Lilies, the work of the French painter and key figure in impressionism, Claude Monet. Since then, he has been studying impressionist painters who were influenced by Japan’s art and culture, such as ukiyo-e. In 2020, he exhibited The Symphony of Water Lilies, his series of paintings in which his research on Japonisme culminates. His artworks have been displayed in various locations, including the Giverny Museum of Impressionisms in France and the Berlin State Museum of Asian Art in Germany. Highly acclaimed in Japan as well as in the West, Hiramatsu is an influential figure in the world of Japanese painting. We spoke to him about his artistic journey.

Artist Reiji Hiramatsu

Tracing the Evolution of Reiji Hiramatsu’s Colours and Style

The world of Hiramatsu’s paintings mesmerise us with a kaleidoscope of resplendent colours and bold compositions. His style has continued to evolve over his artistic career, which spans more than half a century. He was fifteen years old, he says, when he was captivated by colour.

“At the time, I used to live near Nagoya in Aichi prefecture, and there was a pottery place for Seto Ware, one of the six ancient kilns of Japan. I used to go there often to sketch nearby.”

It was there that he was entranced by the colour on a fragment of pottery, which had been discarded and smashed by a potter as a failed piece.

“I was enthralled by the irresistible beauty of the gosu blue (a blue pigment created from an impure cobalt oxide, historically used for porcelain). I gathered up the fragments eagerly and brought them home with me. As I gazed at them, I was drawn into the world inside that colour, more and more.”

In his twenties and thirties, Hiramatsu preferred to use deeper colours, such as grey and Prussian blue, with black as a base, but his colour palette gradually expanded. It was at fifty when he reached a turning point. He travelled to France for the first time for his solo exhibition in a gallery on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The colours he experienced in Paris entered his paintings, and, since then, his work took on more gorgeous hues.

A Golden Cloud Reflected in the Pond


Artist/ Reiji Hiramatsu

Gen de Art Issue 7 cover

The Fascination with Impressionism and Japonisme

that Shook the Sensibilities of Japanese Painting

It was when he travelled to France for his solo exhibition that Hiramatsu encountered Monet’s art. He stopped by the Musée de l'Orangerie when he was out on a walk in a park near his hotel. There, he saw Monet’s Water Lilies extending across the wall, measuring no less than ninety-one metres in length. As a painter himself, Hiramatsu felt a shiver of utter excitement.

“The special room in which Monet’s Water Lilies is displayed at the Musée de l’Orangerie is oval-shaped. The canvas hangs all around the wall, at the same height. To me, it was just like a byobu (a folding screen with decorative panels), and I wondered, ‘Why did a Western impressionist paint a byobu?’”

This incident triggered Hiramatsu’s life work: his research on French impressionism and Japonisme.

“Why did these distinguished artists of the West seek the aesthetics of a faraway country like Japan, which they might not even have visited? Because they could find inspiration there. That’s how these artworks were born. Then in turn, I came from Japan, fell in love with their artworks, and began to seek the origins of Japonisme in Paris.”

“After many years,” says Hiramatsu, “another artist may take inspiration from my paintings, and the beauty will be passed on. If this link is never broken—this link of an artist falling in love with another’s work—beauty will never wither away.”

Hiramatsu began to visit Paris often, tracing the paths of the impressionist painters and exploring the thoughts or emotions of the Western artists of the period from the particular perspective of a Japanese painter. His research, which has continued over thirty years, was also recognised in France. In 2018, he held an exhibition on the theme of Japonisme at the Giverny Museum of Impressionisms in Giverny, a village in France where Monet resided until his death. In 2021, he received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Chevalier) from the French Republic.

“Impressionist paintings are truly wonderful,” says Hiramatsu, “the artists’ time and even their ways of life are embedded within the artwork. The air on your skin, the touch of cold, the singing of birds—the artists felt all this while painting. In the East, the moon is considered the supreme beauty, but in the West, artists are conscious of the sunlight in their expressions. I realised that this was the realism that I had lacked.”

The singular world of Hiramatsu’s art, with its splendid lights and colours, is enriched by his profound study of Japonisme and by his respect for impressionist art—and it glows all the more for them.

Between Summer and Autumn in Monet's Pond - the folding screen on the left in a set of two screens with six panels

Artist/ Reiji Hiramatsu

Concerto of Water Lilies and Sakura- a folding screen with six panels

Artist/ Reiji Hiramatsu

Reflections in the Giverny Pond: Autumn - a folding screen with six panels

Artist/ Reiji Hiramatsu

The Beauty of Japanese Painting: Playful, Ornamental, and Stylistic

Hiramatsu says that his “research is nowhere near enough,” not only about Western art, but also about artistic media. His many creations witness his experimental practice, in which he has explored diverse materials and techniques, such as iwa-enogu (pigments made mainly from ores), sumi ink, and collage.

“The materials used in Japanese painting are fantastic,” says Hiramatsu. “There is an incredibly wide range of pigments as well as brushes. There are also innumerable techniques, such as the various ways of portrayal that make the colours come out differently. Japanese painting branched off from the tradition of Eastern painting and evolved in its own way. It came to fascinate Western masters because Japanese people are well suited for delicate handiwork.”

By using diverse materials and techniques, Hiramatsu continues to reconstruct Japanese painting and create revolutionary pieces. When asked whom he trusts the most, he speaks of his wife of fifty-five years, his face softening with a tender warmth.

“When I’m successful with a painting, my wife smiles and gazes at the piece. If it’s not a good one, she turns her nose up at it and just passes by. She’s my trusted partner as well as my foremost judge.”

Through his research on Japonisme, Hiramatsu recognised anew the profundity of Japanese painting—its playfulness, decorativeness, and stylistic beauty—and he persists in striking out his own unique world view with his art. For a man who talks in such a gentle way, his journey as an artist has been astonishingly powerful.


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