10 Famous Japanese Artists And Their Masterpieces

10 Famous Japanese Artists And Their Masterpieces

Painting has been the preferred form of artistic expression in Japan and Japanese artists have developed various styles along the years, including the sumi-e (ink wash painting) and ukiyo-e (a genre of woodblock prints and paintings) styles, which are well known across the world. Kano School and Rimpa School have perhaps been the most prominent schools in Japanese painting history, which has seen many remarkable artists. We look at 10 of the greatest painters of Japan from Tensho Shubun, who was active in early fifteenth century, to Takashi Murakami of present age.

Note: Click on the images in the gallery and then click on their top left to view the images in full size.

 

#10 Tensho Shubun (early 15th Century)

Shubun studied Chinese Song Dynasty masters like Xia Gui and Ma Yuan and led the way for painters to develop a Japanese style. He is considered the founder of the sumi-e painting (ink wash painting) and promoted it till it became the national style of the period. He was tutor to many renowned artists including the great Sesshu Toyo and Kano Masanobu, the founder of Kano school of painting. Shubun’s most famous painting is Reading in a Bamboo Grove, which is now designated as a National Treasure in Japan.

Masterpiece: Reading in a Bamboo Grove

Other famous works:-

  • Landscape of the Four Seasons
  • Hue of the water, Light on the peaks
  • Oxherding Series

 

#9 Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924)

Tomioka Tessai

Tomioka Tessai

Tessai started his artistic career as a practitioner of bunjinga, or “literati painting” and was the last prominent artist of the movement. Later, Tessai favored the Nihonga style which follows Japanese artistic techniques and conventions as opposed to many other artists of the period who were influenced by western styles. Tessai is known for vibrant colors, bold brushstrokes and grand scale compositions. Tessai was a prolific artist who created around 20,000 paintings. He was popular during his period but reached iconic status only after his death.

Masterpiece: Abe-no-Nakamaro Writing Nostalgic Poem While Moon-viewing

Other famous works:-

  • Two Divinities Dancing
  • Tomioka Tessai Encountering with Immortal Women
  • Mt.Penglai

 

#8 Takashi Murakami (1962-)

Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami

Even when he was very young, Murakami was worried with the state of contemporary art in Japan as he believed that it was “a deep appropriation of Western trends.” Murakami pointed out that, unlike the west, Japanese artists have used flat, 2-dimensional imagery for centuries and continue to use it in anime and manga, to this day. He also believed that post-war there was little distinction between high and low art in Japan. Murakami combined the principles underlying the works of traditional Japanese artists with post-war pop culture in Japan to come up with the superflat art movement. Superflat has now become a prominent post-war Japanese art movement and Murakami has become the most famous Japanese painter and sculptor of the 21st century; and is known as the Andy Warhol of the east.

Famous works:-

  • My Lonesome Cowboy (sculpture)
  • Smooth Nightmare
  • Tan Tan Bo

 

#7 Ogata Korin (1658-1716)

Korin was one of the most important painters of the Rimpa school. He had utter disregard for naturalism and usual conventions. Korin broke away from traditions and developed an original style of his own with a few simple idealized forms and characteristic bold impressionism. Korin is known for his sense of flat decorative design, feeling for nature and emphasis on abstract color patterns. All these qualities come together in his painting ‘Red and White Plum Blossoms’.

Masterpiece: Red and White Plum Blossoms

Other famous works:-

  • Irises screen
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Waves at Matsushima

#6 Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)

Founder of the Hasegawa school of Japanese paintings, Tohaku earlier studied under the prestigious Kano school but later developed his own style. He was also influenced by the works of the great master Sesshu Toyo, so much so that he called himself his fifth successor. His rivalry with Kano Eitoku is well known and together they were the greatest artists of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Tohaku is hailed all over Japan for his elegant and beautiful paintings with his multiple works listed as Japanese treasures.

Masterpiece: Pine Trees

Other famous works:-

  • Maple
  • Pine tree and flowering plants
  • Picture of Monkey in Dead Trees

#5 Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806)

One of the most famous artists of ukiyo-e (a genre of woodblock prints and paintings) of all time, Utamaro is known all over Japan for making the finest and most evocative portraits of sensuous female beauties, or bijin-ga, in all of ukiyo-e. He, more than anyone else, captured the subtle aspects of personality and transient moods of women in his works. Utamaro is known worldwide for his works and has influenced many artists of Europe’s Impressionism movement, especially with his use of partial views and his emphasis on light and shade.

Masterpiece: Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy; A Collection of Reigning Beauties

Other famous works:-

  • Great Love Themes of Classical Poetry
  • Twelve Hours in the Pleasure Quarters

 

#4 Tawaraya Sotatsu (early 17th Century)

Along with Hon’ami Koetsu, Sotatsu is the co-founder of the Rimpa school of Japanese painting. Apart from pioneering a technique called tarashikomi in which one dropped one color into another while the first was still wet; Sotatsu developed an original style of monochrome painting in which the ink was used sensuously as if it were color. Three of his works have been listed as Japanese treasures.

Masterpiece: Six-fold screens depicting episodes from The Tale of Genji

Other famous works:-

  • Water fowl in the lotus pond
  • Wind God and Thunder God

 

 

#3 Kano Eitoku (1543-1590)

Kano school was the dominant style of painting in Japan from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century and Kano Eitoku is perhaps the most renowned artist of the Kano school. A vastly popular artist of his time, Eitoku received many wealthy patrons and maintained the superiority of his school. His masterpiece is an eight panel Cypress screen which shows the vigor of the Monoyama style, which he is mainly responsible for creating.

Masterpiece: Painting of a Cypress

Other famous works:-

  • Scenes in and around the capital
  • Birds and flowers of the four seasons
  • Chinese Guardian Lions

 

Self-Portrait of Katsushika Hokusai

Self-Portrait of Katsushika Hokusai

#2 Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

The greatest master of ukiyo-e (a genre of woodblock prints), Hokusai is renowned internationally, probably more than any other Asian artist, and his masterpiece The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the face of Japanese art around the world. Known by more than thirty names through his career, Hokusai’s most important contributions came after he turned 60, including the famous series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji which depicts the holy mountain in differing seasons and weather conditions from various angles and distances. Hokusai’s works have influenced Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters in the west from Renoir to Monet to Van Gogh.

Masterpiece: The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Other famous works:-

  • Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji
  • A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces
  • Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces

#1 Sesshu Toyo (1420-1506)

Self-Portrait of Sesshu Toyo

Self-Portrait of Sesshu Toyo

Revered not only in Japan but also in China, Sesshu is known as the greatest exponent of sumi-e (ink wash painting), which was founded by his master Tensho Shubun. Like Tensho, Sesshu Toyo was also influenced by Chinese Song Dynasty painting but he transformed it and gave it Japanese character, like, he used greater contrast between light and shadow, thicker lines and a flatter effect of space. Even in his lifetime, Sesshu was hailed as the greatest painter of Japan and such has been his impact on Japanese art that for centuries Japanese artists have imitated his style and been influenced by his works. It is said that when Sesshu was a student he was punished for disobedience and tied to a pillar and when his teachers returned they were surprised to see a mouse very close to his foot. It was actually a picture Sesshu had drawn from his tears.

Masterpiece: Sansui Chokan (Long Scroll of Landscapes)

Other Famous Works:-

  • Huike Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma
  • Landscapes of the Four Seasons
  • Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka
  • View of Ama-no-Hashidate

 

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16 Comments

  1. Rosie January 27, 2015
    Reply

    I have two very old silk paper oil paintings. I believe these are done by a Japanese artist. I compared them to some on this site and they looked to be similar to the last one on here. I can not read the signature but one has what looks to be a red like fire shooting out of a vase under the signature. It shows two fishermen on a bank. The other has lots of beautiful colors and has a volcano in the background with islands surrounding it and what looks to be a Japanese house. If I could see some signatures of other artist I could compare and tell you if they match. I do not have a printer or scanner to download copies to send out or put on the inter-net. If these sound familiar or if you know of where I can compare signatures please respond. Thank you.

    • Learnodo Newtonic February 6, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Rosie.
      Signatures are not sufficient to authenticate a painting and are in fact one of the most common ways to forge a painting. I advice you to search for the most reliable art expert in your area and show him those works to find out if the paintings are indeed the works of the Japanese masters.
      Thanks for taking interest in the post.

      • Suzans website November 18, 2015
        Reply

        I love them all but the lone some cow boy in to inappropriate for my little boy he is doing a project and it won’t be good for him to encounter thing of that sort.

        • Learnodo Newtonic November 19, 2015
          Reply

          I understand your concern. However it is among the most famous works of Japanese art and it would not be true to the article if we didn’t include it in the list.

  2. idance12 February 4, 2016
    Reply

    hopefully this helps me with my project

  3. G.Han March 18, 2016
    Reply

    Hello..I believe I am in possession of a modern japanese oil painting on panel. Can you recommend someone who can authenticate it in the Toronto Canada area. My search has been unsuccessful as most specialize in ancient japanese art. Thank you.

    • Learnodo Newtonic March 18, 2016
      Reply

      Hi G. Han, I am sorry that I will not be able to provide a reliable painting expert in Toronto Canada area. I did conduct an online research for you but was unable to find someone I could term reliable with confidence. However, I did come across an article in WSJ which reviewed online appraisals of five sites including valuemystuff and worthpoint. They require you to send photos and details about the painting. Here is a link to the article http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703447004575450170902767324. Hope that helps.

  4. dealdash wintoday January 23, 2017
    Reply

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  5. Hortense February 24, 2017
    Reply

    This is a topic that is near to my heart…
    Thank you! Exactly where are your contasct detail though?

  6. Danny Mohar February 28, 2017
    Reply

    I love you Anon.

  7. Tyisha Asselin February 28, 2017
    Reply

    pretty handy material, overall I consider this is well worth a bookmark, thanks

  8. Lost&Lonely March 24, 2017
    Reply

    This was helpful and it helped me in my project 🙂

  9. gomezpeter March 24, 2017
    Reply

    The one i liked the most is Katsushika Hokusai.please, post more images.

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    Reply

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