Since the Meiji period, binary concepts such as “fine art” and “craft,” as well as “Nihonga (Japanese painting),” and “Yōga (Western painting)” have been institutionalized in Japan. However, Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942), a painter and designer frequently recognized as the last master of Rimpa, charted an alternative path for art in Kyoto, the former capital.

The recently acquired collection of Arthur Tress at Penn includes ten titles of woodblock books associated with Kamisaka Sekka. While many catalogs and articles have been published on Kamisaka Sekka in recent decades, they mostly focus on biographical studies. The detailed examination of the images in these books, a focus rarely seen in previous scholarship, reveals Kamisaka Sekka’s pursuit of “pure Japanese art.” By adopting the Rimpa tradition and collaborating with local publishers, department stores, and artisans in his hometown of Kyoto, he challenged the newly established concepts of his contemporary art field.”