Obata: Painting of Two Students Next to the Berkeley Buckeye Tree

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Artist: Chiura Obata   (1885-1975)
Title: Sumi-e Painting of Two Figures Next to the Berkeley Buckeye Tree

Date: Ca. 1930s

Portrait of a student working on a brush painting and a seated woman who looks over his shoulder. Next to them we see what must be the iconic and ancient California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) Tree that is not far from the building where Obata taught his art classes at Berkeley. The area is now part of Faculty Glade, and the buckeye is considered perhaps the best-loved tree on campus.  Obata often brought his classes outside for plein-air painting and sketching, and at the time of this painting the art building was nearby (it has since been torn down). He made many demonstration paintings for his students, but this one also may have been a work that he did for his own pleasure, as he drew and painted every day to keep his unsurpassed brush in Olympic-level shape. Here we see one tall male student seated on the ground, his brush directed at a large sheet of paper on his lap, his mien both focused and calm. A woman looks over his shoulder; she could be a model for other members of the class, or she could be a student herself, or perhaps she is another teacher or visitor who happened to be sitting at this spot on this day. This tree today looks almost the same, with its curving trunk and large, revealing voids (see photo). We can understand the appeal that this magnificent tree held for Obata, as it appears almost like a natural sculpture.  It also has a large, flat stone next to it that the woman may be sitting on here. The tree is surprisingly healthy even today.  

Obata’s economy of line and mastery of Japanese-style brushwork are practically unequalled in 20th c. American art, perhaps because he trained with the brush in Japan beginning at the tender age of seven. Obata also imported all of his supplies from Japan, both high-quality inks and paper. He taught at Berkeley between 1932 and 1954. The University of California, Berkeley preserved all of his paintings while Obata and his family were unjustly interned in Utah during WWII.  The recent retrospective, “Chiura Obata: An American Modern”, recently toured five museums, concluding at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC in 2019. Provenance: Estate of Chiura Obata. Includes a Certificate of Authenticity from the estate. 

Condition:  Excellent condition overall. On heavy, soft Japanese paper, with pinholes in corners that were no doubt put there by the artist himself for display.

Dimensions: 39.2 x 52.7 cm  
Provenance:  Estate of Chiura Obata. Includes a certificate of authenticity from the estate of the artist.