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Archive: Obata Chiura (小圃千浦)

Joshua trees and traveler with a pack horse
Chiura Obata (in English)
Artist Seal: Chiura (千浦)
NA (watercolor)
c. 1930s
(H x W)
Double ôban
52.5 x 39.0 cm
NA (watercolor, sumi and colors on paper)
Excellent color, unbacked; pinhole in each corner, light creases UR and LR corners
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: OBT07


Obata Chiura (小圃千浦, November 18, 1885 - October 6, 1975) was born Obata Zoroku in Okayama, Japan and grew up in Sendai. He emigrated to California in 1903, where he pursued and taught painting and printmaking, leaving behind a highly distinctive and important body of work. His biography is summarized at our Obata Biography page.


Obata painted en plein air this view of two Joshua ("yucca palm") trees, plus others drawn faintly in the middle distance, in what might be the Southern California desert. A barely sketched-in solitary figure leads a pack horse or mule toward purple-colored mountains. It is a fine example of Obata's occasional spare style when he chose to contrast light or semi-transparent washes of color with more substantial sumi blacks or grays, such as the Joshua trees in the foreground of this composition.

Although many of Obata's landscapes contain a strong measure of topographical realism, he was more interested in capturing kiin seidô ("living moment": 気韻生動), i.e., the essential nature of a scene. This quality of observation and perceptiveness was transmitted through the artist's intuitive connection with the spirit of the subject. Kiin seidô is evident in Obata's painting through the interplay of wet and dry brush strokes, and simplified forms and empty space — enhanced with pale colors. The energy of Obata's brushwork is an expression of living natural beauty.


  • Janice Driesbach and Susan Landauer: Obata's Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from His Trip to the High Sierra in 1927.Yosemite Association, 1993, pp. 36, 54, and 56.
  • ShiPu Wang: Chiura Obata: An American Modern. Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018.