Watanabe Seitei’s original name was Yoshikawa Yoshimata. He was born and lived in Tokyo and was also known as Shotei. He came from a family of rice brokers and was apprenticed to a pawn shop at the age of 12, but was fired for spending too much of his time painting. When he was 14, without his father’s permission, he became a pupil of Kikuchi Yosai (1788~1878), a popular and successful historical painter. At the age of 21, by which time he had started to use the ‘go’ (pen name) Seitei, he was adopted by Watanabe Koshi a poet and friend of his father, also a poet.
Instead of following his teacher and becoming an historical painter, Seitei became one of the best and most popular exponents of kacho ga (bird and flower paintings). His 3 books of woodblock prints ‘Seitei Kacho Gafu’, possible his most famous work, was published in 1890~1891 ; a single book ‘Kacho Gafu’ in 1903 and a series of 22 prints ‘Nijuni kacho’ in 1916. He wrote several books on painting and edited Bijutsu Sekai (Art World) published in 1893~1896.
Seitei was a frequent exhibitor and prize winner in domestic and foreign exhibitions. He travelled in Europe and America. In 1878, he was awarded a silver medal for a painting shown at the Paris exposition. At a dinner with Edgar Degas they exchanged drawings but Degas ripped up his work claiming he could not match the beauty of Seitei’s work. Seitei’s drawing was part of Degas’s estate at his death.
His woodblock prints are undoubtedly influenced by western watercolours which he had a chance to study on his trip to France. His style is technically brilliant; its strongest features are its fresh and lucid use of colour and sensitive employment of wash, with effects reminiscent of western watercolours.