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Biography of Kobayashi Kokei

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Kobayashi Kokei (1883-1957) ― A Great painter from Joetsu city

portrait photo kokei kobayashi(photo)Kobayashi Kokei was born in 1883, the second son of kobayashi Miki and Yu, in Takada, Niigata prefecture, in what is today Joetsu city. His father was a former retainer of the Sakakibara Takada clan. Kokei’s real name is Kobayashi Shigeru. Kokei’s mother died in 1887 when he was 4 years old; his brother died in 1892 and his father one years later. At the age of 13 he was left alone with one sister.
Kokei liked to draw pictures since he was a child. He began to learn Nihonga (Japanese style painting) when he was 11 years old. Needless to say he didn’t have a happy childhood, but he went to Tokyo at the age of 16 with the aim of becoming a painter, in 1899. He began his Tokyo life in a house located in  a corner of a large estate in Hongo Yumi-cho.

Kokei then entered Kajita Hanko’s private art school, Hanko gave him the pseudonym “Kokei.” He received attentive and thorough instruction from Hanko and together with his innate talent for painting, he soon distinguished himself as an artist. After a few years, Kokei became the defacto head of Hanko’s private art school.
The Nihon Bijutsuin (Nihonga artist’s Institute) was reorganized in 1914 and Kokei entered his painting Searching for Christians in the first Inten (reorganized institute) exhibition held that year. This work led to Kokei’s nomination as a member of the Institute. After that, he presented a consecutive number of representative masterworks such as Bath, Scenes from the tale of Kiyohime and Hair combing.

In 1922, Kokei traveled to Europe with Maeda Seison, as a student funded by the Nihon Bijutsuin. He traveled through Italy, France, and England before returning to Japan in August 1923. Upon his return from studying in Europe, Kokei continued studying Japanese classic painting over a lifetime.

In 1944, when Kokei was 61 years old, he began to teach at Tokyo University of the Arts, and the following year he evacuated to Yamanashi prefecture due to World War 2 .
After the war , Kokei returned to Tokyo and began a high volume of work , and became well known. Kokei was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit in 1950. This was the first time a person from Niigata had received this award. He drew pictures for the remainder of his life. In 1957, Koei died at the age of 74.

Hair combing (photo)Hair combing (1931) Eisei Bunko Museum