Ryuson Chuso Matsuyama: A Japanese artist in England


We have been fortunate to acquire a collection of works by the Japanese artist Ryuson Chuzo Matsuyama (1880-1954). He was a member of a small but intriguing group of Japanese artists working in England during the first decades of the 20th century. While the best known of this group are the printmaker Urushibara Mokuchu and the illustrator Yoshio Markino, Matsuyama is arguably the more interesting, bringing a freshness of practice and perception to the essentially British art form of watercolour. He also adopted Britain as his home, marrying an English girl, Mabel Davies, in Chelsea in 1914, and bringing his family up in London and the Surrey countryside. Unlike the great majority of the Japanese expatriate community, who left the UK to return home in the face of increasing anti-Japanese feeling in the 1920s and ‘30s, Matsuyama remained in England, becoming a naturalised British citizen in 1947.
After initial training in a broad range of media, as well as receiving an introduction to watercolour in Tokyo, Matsuyama travelled to England in 1911 to develop his knowledge and practice. We have two small sketches produced during his journey – recording scenes in Singapore (shown here) and Marseilles.Matsuyama-Singapore-2 Settling in London, he, like the painter Sato Takezou, studied at the Chelsea School of Art, while also working as a decorative painter, restorer and lacquer repairer. His watercolours of London scenes found a ready market within the Japanese community, and he exhibited regularly at the Japanese Club in Cavendish Square, showing alongside his compatriots as well as artists such as Frank Brangwyn and George Clausen, who were active supporters of the group of Japanese artists. He was also an active and successful member of the British art world, exhibiting from 1916 at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy, the National Portrait Society and regional art galleries. He was a member of the Holborn artists’ society and was elected an Associate of the British Watercolour Society – an honour he was asked to resign in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II – a shameful act by the Society, which coincided oddly with his receipt of British citizenship

.Matsuyama-still-life-1As well as London scenes, Matsuyama’s earlier subject matter includes floral still-lifes, reminiscent of prints by Urushibara, and an aesthetic in landscape and genre scenes which seems to owe much to the Japanese shin-hanga movement. He undertook a range of painting tours to archetypal picturesque areas such as North Wales, the Lake District and the South West, but also visited Flanders and Northern France in 1920, recording the devastation wrought by the First World War, as shown in his view of Ypres (right).Matsuyama-Ypres-2
It is perhaps his mature work of the 1920s and ‘30s that is most striking, He seems to have taken delight in the colours, activities and seasonal rhythms of the English countryside, recording particularly the landscapes of Surrey, especially those around Dorking and his home in Holmwood. His landscapes are rich, authoritative and idiosyncratic: flooded with saturated colour, applied from a heavily laden brush, and contrasted with precise, calligraphic linear outline.Matsuyama-Walking-to-Littlehampton-1 Most are carefully annotated with place and date, and convey real pleasure in the subject,  sometimes recording favourite places or walks. Much of his work is subtly imbued with a charm and gentle humour – more obviously seen in his cartoon of the family (noticeably excluding Mr Matsuyama himself) struggling to hoist the roof onto the family’s new shed.
While much is documented relating to Japanese ceramic artists working in Europe, particularly those associated with Bernard Leach, too little is known of the community of Japanese painters, printmakers and illustrators working in London at the beginning of the 20th century. The work of Matsuyama and his contemporaries deserves more serious research.Matsuyama-Garden-Shed-2Matsuyama-Putney-Heath-2

Posted in Research, Stories
5 comments on “Ryuson Chuso Matsuyama: A Japanese artist in England
  1. Kathy Lyons says:

    I have ten beautiful Matsuyama water colours, which were given directly by his widow. They are mostly 1930s watercolours of Amberley, Battersea Park,and other locations south of the Thames.

    • lloydellis2015 says:

      Dear Kathy Lyons
      many thanks for getting in touch about your watercolours. I think Matsuyama’s work has great charm and he deserves to be much better known than he is. It must be an added interest to have received your pictures from from the family. We have the leaflet produced to accompany his exhibition at Collins & Son, but are always interested to hear more information about him. With best wishes, Martin Ellis

  2. Kathy Lyons says:

    I have just bought the set of five watercolours that you have offered for £140. I also noticed that you have a cartoon by Matsuyama showing the building of a shed. Our friends bought the Matsuyama family home in the early seventies and became friendly with Mrs. Matsuyama. She gave them several watercolours, some of which I now have, and also attended their wedding. She showed them Matsuyama’s ‘Painting Shed’ in the garden of the house; evidently a film crew from BBC2 had visited some years previously and were most excited to see that his workplace was still there.Could this be the building in the cartoon? Mrs. Matsuyama also showed my friends photos of their son who was in the RAF during WW2; he was killed in action and they saw a photo of his coffin, surrounded by lilies, placed in the ‘parlour’ of the house. She spoke of her husband having exhibited his art at the Royal Academy.

    • lloydellis2015 says:

      Dear Kathy
      That’s great. I do hope you enjoy the watercolours. We’ll get them into the post to you first thing on Monday. I’m never sure about having works hanging around in a sorting office over the weekend. We’ll pop in a copy of the Collins catalogue for your information too.
      It is a wonderful story about your friends. I don’t see why the shed in the cartoon shouldn’t be the one that Mrs Matsuyama showed them. It certainly looks robust enough in the picture!
      I wonder if the BBC ever made a programme. He would certainly merit one.
      We’ll be in touch again to confirm despatch.
      With very many thanks,

      • Kathy Lyons says:

        Thank you, Martin. I look forward to receiving the watercolours. I kept the ten or so that my friends gave me in a folder for several years and finally had them framed. I don’t know why I hadn’t done this sooner, as they add a delightful dimension to my home, and are often remarked upon. I would never part with them. My friends were not so lucky unfortunately. They moved house after living in Matsuyama’s former home for about five years, and after completing the move realised to their horror that they had left the watercolours in a box in the loft, intending to frame them when settled in their new home. They called at their former home to ask the new owner for the box and…she denied all knowledge. How sad – there were some superb paintings in that particular set, including a magnificent watercolour of the interior of Salisbury cathedral. I have a slightly smaller version of the same view. Unfortunately when our friends visit, sitting in the same room with our Matsuyama’s is not necessarily a happy experience. I did offer some back to them but they insisted I must keep them. In the hoard left behind was also a framed landscape by another artist whose name escapes me but he was also an exhibitor at the Royal Academy and I did find his name familiar at the time.
        Having read in the notes about his disgraceful expulsion from the British Watercolour Society one can only wonder how he felt, having lost his son.

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