Tanaka Isson is a renowned Japanese painter. But his life was full of hardships and he died in obscurity.
Enchanted by the nature of Amami Oshima, Isson moved to the subtropical island in Kagoshima prefecture at the age of 50. He vividly depicted the exotic flora and fauna on the island known for its beautiful beaches until he died alone at 69 in a shabby little house in 1977. His paintings had never attracted people’s attention before public broadcaster NHK aired in 1984 a documentary about the solitary artist who led a frugal life for most of his career. His popularity grew suddenly as the media started to compare his life and works with those of Paul Gauguin, a French painter who created his masterpieces during his stay in Tahiti.
It was in 2001 that Tanaka Isson Memorial Museum of Art was established in his honor in Amami city. The museum largely consists of three buildings that look like traditional high-floored warehouses in the southern islands. It holds 455 of nearly 600 Isson works and exhibits about 90 pieces. The museum changes its exhibits four times a year.
The permanent exhibit is divided into three sections – years before moving to Chiba, years in Chiba and years in Amami Oshima. Before relocating to Amami Oshima, Isson spent 20 years of his life in Chiba city, near Tokyo.
Isson loved the wildlife of Amami Oshima, more than 80% of which is covered in forests. Among his most well-known pieces are the paintings of birds, butterflies, fish, lobsters, flowers and subtropical plants such as palm trees and screw pines.
The museum belongs to Amami Park which also has dome-shaped building “Amami-no-Sato.” It introduces the nature, history, culture and industries of the Amami islands.
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