A visit to the Hoki Museum, the first museum devoted to Japanese realist painting

Sure, I enjoy watching artists on YouTube like Cesar Santos create hyper real art and I dig how the early modern Dutch masters made their paintings almost 3-D with attention to detail, but until I’d been to the Hoki Museum on the edge of Chiba City today, I’d never realised the power (or the point) of hyper realistic oil painting, I mean isn’t that what photography is for?

Sure. But there is an enormous difference (literally) in seeing a picture of an oil painting that seems indistinguishable from photography in a book or on a computer screen and standing before a ceiling-high realistic landscape of a Japanese mountain, a larger-than life portrait of a young woman,  or an old man. I found myself staring at the portraits in the gallery, first trying to establish what distinguished them as oil paintings and not photos, then when I noticed a brushstroke or a highlight that seemed just a little too fortuitous, the whole clicked into place. It wasn’t just that the portraits were realistic, it was that they were in some ways better than reality. Captured on the walls were beauty in age, youth and a kind of wonder, maybe at the abilities of the artists to capture a moment perfectly in all its imperfection.

Sure, I’m sounding a bit pretentious here, but it’s hard to put into words the feelings that such quality evoked in me. It made me inspired to spend longer on my art, my slap-dash approach may be expressive and good for a laugh, but there is a place for spending time on the details of a piece of art. This is what I realised today.

And, sure, how wonderful it must be to have the ability to privately fund and open a museum like this. Masao Hoki is the 87-year-old founder (his portrait is featured below). He made his fortune in medical stationery before collecting art. The funky modern building was completed in 2010 and is spread over three floors. It features nine galleries, a gift shop, a restaurant and a cafe.

Be sure to visit. Their website in English is here. The following are my snaps of postcards of some of my favourites (it’s not my fault there were lots of scantily clad young ladies on the walls, honest) but they really don’t do justice to the, er, real things.

* * *

Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. He lives in Abiko with his wife and two daughters.