Tomimaro Higuchi: The Ukiyo-e Artist's Exhibition in Calcutta

— Satyasri Ukil

Mukul Dey, Japanese Consul with wife and artist Tomimaro Higuchi at the inauguration of his exhibition at Government School of Art, Calcutta 1931
Photo: The Statesman, Calcutta

In the month of May, 1931 Mukul Dey sponsored an exhibition of modern Japanese Ukiyo-e prints by Tomimaro Higuchi (? 1898-1981) and his artist friends at the premises of Government School of Art, Calcutta. Mukul Dey’s relation with Japan and Japanese artists and art lovers began way back in 1916, when as a young Indian art student he accompanied Rabindranath Tagore to his first trip to Japan.

 There he was fortunate to learn under Japanese master painters Yokoyama Taikan of Tokyo and Shimomura Kanzan at Yokohama for sometime. During this trip, as a member of poet Tag ore’s party, Mukul Dey met famous Japanese art-collector Tomitaro Hara and lived for about three months at Sankeien, as Tomitaro Hara’s guest. He learned many precious things from his kind Japanese host, and was shown Tomitaro’s famous collection of Japanese art and traditional Japanese architecture.

 Later on in his career, when Mukul Dey became the first Indian Principal of Government School of Art, Calcutta in 1928, he organized many exhibitions at its premises to inculcate a cross-fertilization of Mukul Dey’s Visitors Book shows Tomimaro Higuchi’s signature and little drawing on May 18, 1931.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
aesthetic ideas and methods for the benefit of his students, and Indian public in general.

 A few of such exhibitions of historic importance were by Jamini Roy in September-October 1929, Tomimaro Higuchi in May 1931, Rabindranath Tagore in February-March 1932 and Kosetsu Nosu in March, 1936.

 Interestingly, in each of these occasions Mukul Dey never forgot to prepare a catalogue and price-list of the exhibits, and introduced the artists in a language that was lucid and insightful.

 Even now in the collection of Mukul Dey Archives, there are a number of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, which are of exquisite beauty. Also there are a number of neo-Bengal School paintings, which were reproduced by Japanese Ukiyo-e printmakers about one hundred years ago. No wonder, as a printmaker himself, Mukul Dey much appreciated Tomimaro Higuchi, who was an Ukiyo-e artist specializing in printed A detail of Tomimaro’s signature and drawing.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives

 As in the case of Kosetsu Nosu, I tried to find out about Tomimaro Higuchi in the books by Indian art historians. But there was no reference. Apart from the catalogue of Tomimaro Higuchi’s 1931 Calcutta exhibition, I did not see any literature on him. This is strange, because Higuchi came to India in search of new visual idiom. He was here to study the manners and customs of Indian people, about eighty years ago. I wonder if Tomimaro Higuchi ever used his Indian drawings to print “pictures of the floating world” out of them? These could be interesting aspects of a research, as it could show how different cultures can influence each other. This is an area which may not have been explored well by our historians yet.

Catalogue of the Calcutta exhibition of Tomimaro Higuchi, 1931.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
I reproduce below the Foreword Mukul Dey penned for Tomimaro Higuchi’s exhibition catalogue:

” Mr. Tomimaro Higuchi was born in March 1897 in Osaka, Japan. In 1911, he started to study painting under Mr. Tsunetomi Kitano, the great master of “Ukiyoe” School. In 1914, his works were exhibited for the first time at the 9th Art Exhibition of the Department of Education, and were much appreciated by the public. He became well-known as a painter at the early age of 17. Since then he exhibited his pictures five times in the “Teiten”—the Exhibition of the Imperial Art Institute. Then he entered the Japanese Art Institute, and his paintings were represented six times in the “Inten”—the Exhibition of that Institute. He received the “Shoreisho”—the highest honour—in the “Inten” held in Tokio this Spring, and is now one of the members of the committee of that Institute. He was appointed as an instructor of “Hakuyosha” Art School of Osaka, as soon as it was established by Mr. Tsunetomi Kitano, his master in 1923. The school is now under Mr. Higuchi’s control.

The main object of his present tour is to collect materials for his exhibits in the “Inten” and his own exhibitions to be held in Japan in the coming Autumn. It was his long cherished desire to see the Buddhistic Arts and the customs and manners in India, and he is already amazed at the grandeur of the Buddhistic Arts and the abundance of materials for painting available in India.

Characters from an Indian drama, colour drawing by Tomimaro Higuchi, 1931.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
The object of this exhibition is to represent, before the Indian public, the modern art movements of Japan, by his own paintings and also his friends’ brought by Mr. Higuchi, numbering about sixty. They are small in size, but are the fruits of earnest efforts by each artist to introduce real modern Japanese paintings to the Indian public and include first class painters of different schools and bodies of artists now existing in Japan.

At the present exhibition Mr. Higuchi has reproduced the style and form of an art exhibition in Japan as far as possible. Mr. Higuchi has presented to the Government School of Art, Calcutta, a picture entitled “Girl” by Miss Sumie Sadakane, a promising artist of “Teiten” school, as a remembrance of his visit to India.”

M. C. Dey

28, Chowringhee, Calcutta

May 18, 1931

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