Seitei was born in 1852 in the Kanda Sakuma-cho district of Edo. At the age of 16 he entered the studio of Kikuchi Yôsai, renowned for his history paintings, and there honed his painting skills. In the early Meiji period he produced newspaper and magazine illustrations along with preparatory drawings for export decorative art wares. Around that time he was also influenced by the witty, chic style of Shibata Zeshin, and began to seek his own distinctive expressive form based on detailed sketching from life. His display of works in the Paris World Exposition in 1878 provided his first opportunity to visit France as a Nihonga painter. There he interacted with Degas, Manet and other Impressionist masters, before returning to Japan where he broke new ground in the creation of bird and flower paintings. His true powers were first apparent in his Fowl in Snow displayed in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and his preparatory drawings for cloisonné panels Cloisonné Medallions of Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons by the artist Namikawa Sôsuke that adorned the Kachô no Ma room (Hall of Flowers and Birds) in the Akasaka Rikyû Palace (NT). The Nihonga circles of the day expected further successes, but from that time he chose to not display in exhibitions, distancing himself from painting circles until his death at age 68 in 1918.
Seitei is little remembered today, but during his lifetime he came to be highly regarded in Europe and America, with his works today found in such major Western museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Freer Gallery of Art and the British Museum. While the outer world recognized the quality of his works, few Japanese museums collected them and both his life and his works are little known. Recent small exhibitions and plans for a large-scale picture compendium publication indicate the reconsideration of his oeuvre currently underway.
This exhibition introducing Seitei's finest works is not only meaningful for specialized art historical study, it will also surely provide art lovers in general with a chance to discover yet new and fascinating aspects of the history of Nihonga.