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Hailing from Kanda, Edo, Seitei Watanabe was born Yoshikawa Yoshimata. The son of Yoshikawa Chobei, Seitei’s father was the rice broker who spurred the samurai’s income to shift from rice to currency. Understandably, the family had become quite wealthy by the end of the Edo period, leading Seitei to apprentice with a pawnbroker at age 13. At age 16, he began his artistic career, studying briefly with Shibata Zeshin, but building a lasting relationship with Kikuchi Yosai, with whom Seitei studied calligraphy and nature drawing. In 1875, he began to design export-bound craft objects for Kiryu Kosho Gaisha, earning the company an award at the first Domestic Industrial Exhibition in 1877. The following year, he received a bronze medal for his painting at the Paris Exposition and the young artist set off for Paris. During his three years there, he was greatly influenced by European artists’ use of light, shadow and perspective.
After returning to Japan, Seitei Watanabe became known for his kacho-e (bird-and-flower picture) watercolors before turning to woodblock printing around 1890. He won awards from Japan’s Domestic Industrial Exhibition (1881), the Amsterdam International Exhibition (1883), and the Colombian Exposition in Chicago (1893). He also began the art journal Art World, consisting of woodblock prints based on paintings. Following 1893, Seitei refrained from participation in art organizations but served as Mizuno Toshikata’s teacher. Watanabe’s woodblock prints are recognized for their elegant, simple composition, careful detail, and expert calligraphic lines.