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Archive: Obata Chiura (小圃千浦)

Islands off the California coast
Chiura Obata
Artist seal: Obata (小圃 [...])
N/A (sumi-e painting)
c. 1940s
(H x W)
Double ôban
39.5 x 52.5 cm
N/A (sumi-e painting)
Excellent, unbacked; extreme upper corners faintly discolored; short paper creases at the middle of right and left edges. (Spots above the right-most land mass are not condition issues but drips from Obata's brush.)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: OBT13


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.

Although many of Obata's paintings and watercolors feature natural realism, he was more interested in capturing kiin seidô ("living moment": 気韻生動), i.e., the essential nature of a scene or subject. This quality of observation and perceptiveness was transmitted through the artist's intuitive connection with the spirit of the subject. The energy of Obata's brushwork is an expression of living natural beauty.


With masterful control of sumi ink, Obata has brushed life into the vegetation on the islands. Bolder, darker strokes define the two closest land masses, while lighter brushwork reveals the distant forms. The ethereal sea mist is indicated by long, horizontal gestures that fade into nothingness. A quiet splash of white opaque pigment has been brushed in above the islands toward the upper right.

Obata's painting is a fine example of decorative naturalism conveyed through Obata's "living moment" idiom. In this painting the artist used a combination of saturated and dilute colors to render the coastal islands in an updated version of traditional suibokuga (monochrome ink compositions: 水墨画). The balance and contrast between painted forms and empty space is also effective and expressive. A feeling of calm and stillness is present in this excellent painting.


  • 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.