Watanabe Sadao (1913-1996) was one of the greatest Japanese printmakers of the late twentieth century. Although he was awarded the first Japan Folk Art Museum Prize in 1947 for “The Story of Ruth”, he became far better known outside Japan than in his own country with its strong Buddhist and Shinto traditions. Watanabe’s works have become internationally acclaimed and part of the permanent collection of many leading museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the British Museum. His prints have hung in the White House and outside the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican as well.
Watanabe is famous for his biblical prints influenced by the mingei undo, a Japanese folk art movement developed in the late 1920s and 1930s. In addition to his art being executed in a traditional Japanese medium and method, his Biblical themes are typically depicted in a Japanese cultural milieu giving his Christian art a distinctly national flavor. Watanabe said, “I wanted to find a way of expressing my Christianity within a Japanese context, instead of just adopting the European tradition.” For example, in his prints of “The Last Supper”, the disciples are dressed in kimonos and kneeling on tatami around a low table. On the table there is a large red fish, a sea bream (tai), which is served at times of celebration. Stylized bottles of sake, fish, and plates of sushi complete the feast.
Summing up his purpose, Watanabe explained that “I have always aspired to portray stories and episodes from the Bible. In this disturbed world, I would like to be able to heed the voice of Heaven.”
This exhibition is made possible through the generous loan of more than fifty items from the collection of Anne H.H. Pyle, owner of the most extensive collection of Watanabe’s art in North America and his only private student.