Yasushi Tanaka (1886 - 1941)
Dans la Ville, c. 1925
Oil on canvas
48 x 36 inches
Signed on stretcher bar: Yasushi Tanaka
Private collection, Connecticut
Papillion Gallery, Beverly Hills, California
Private collection, Massachusetts
Yasushi Tanaka was born into a prosperous manufacturing family in Japan. He moved to Seattle, Washington, around 1904. Determined to make it on his own, Tanaka ran a fruit stall during the day and painted at night. He took a few painting classes with the Indian-born artist Fokko Tadema, which was his only formal instruction.
Considered one of Seattle's first Modernist artists, Tanaka's early works were abstract and non-objective, a quality that earned him derision from a suspicious local audience. In a review by Jack Bechdolt, written in September 1914, the few persons who have discovered his exhibitions have either scoffed raucously or quarreled violently with the painter.
Undeterred, Tanaka taught painting classes at the Seattle Fine Arts Society, and also lectured on modern art. Tanaka was given a solo exhibition at the Fine Arts Society in 1920 before he left the city for Paris. Once in Paris, Tanaka became a member of the Salon d'Automne, the Societe Nationale and of the Societe des Independants. The royal family of Japan bought eight of Tanaka's paintings. (Stanley Orne, Tanaka, Former Seattle Artist, Settles Abroad, Seattle Times, April 6, 1940, n.p.)
Painted in Paris around 1925, Dans La Ville offers a delightful Modernist view of the bourgeois bustle of the city. The figures on the street all seem full of purpose, from the mother and her child striding down a hill to the man paused in front of an antique shop. Tanaka depicted the buildings in a boldly spare manner, almost as sculptural cliff faces. The buildings are punctuated, though, with windows, some showing the rooms and people within, others framed by shutters and curtains. Tanaka used a deliberately distorted perspective and lack of scale, along with stylized figures in this boldly cropped composition. The city itself is painted in a modulated rainbow of a palette, bringing a dream-like quality to the otherwise worldly scene.
Martin Wolpert, Figurative Paintings: Paris and the Modern Spirit, (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2006), p. 267, illustrated in color.