The artist Masao Matsuoka was born in March 1894 in Inasa Village, Uda County, Nara Prefecture (presently the Haibara district in Uda City), where the “Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki)” describes as the village of Urushi lacquer for the ancient times Yamato Imperial Court. He spent his childhood there until he entered the Tokyo Fine Arts School. The area became Haibara town following an extensive municipal merger that occurred during the Showa era (around 1955), and became Uda City on January 1, 2006 as the result of another extensive municipal merger in the Heisei era. Accordingly, with its new name in place, the city made a fresh start. Today Uda City continues to thrive as a city of dreams, made richer by its history and the blessings of nature.
Mr. Matsuoka had been recognized for his artistic talent as a young artist in the realm of Western fine arts. He was a recipient of the prestigious Nika award, and was recognized in the renowned Nika Art Exhibition and Imperial Art Exhibition while attending the Teacher’s Course of Tokyo Fine Arts School. He was particularly well known for his superior skills as a sketch artist, so that he was often called “Sketcher Matsuoka” or “Master of Sketching.”
Matsuoka had become a rising star in the field of Western fine arts, and his future certainly looked bright. However, he devoted the majority of his time to the study of; Japanese lacquer artwork (Urushi-e), which had been an abiding interest since the days of his youth. In fact he spent nearly fifty years of his life in Urushi arts; (Saishitsu-ga), and became a pioneer in that field. As is evident by the fact that Urushi arts ultimately became established as a branch of the arts, his achievements have long been highly regarded. Matsuoka’s artworks are expressed with colors that were unattainable with Urushi before his time.
Urushi has a very long history, and is said to have originated nine thousand years ago. In the early days of its history, Urushi was used for the application of pictures and patterns on accessories and ceramic goods for daily use. This kind of use is still found today, as seen in Wajima Urushi lacquering. However, the Urushi arts before Matsuoka’s day were craft artworks instead of fine arts. One of the factors that prevented Urushi from being used as paint for drawing was that the selection of colors was limited to just five or six. Therefore, Matsuoka made tremendous efforts to expand the range of selection in colored Urushi.
Matsuoka therefore established the previously untried field of Urushi arts, and in the process he left us a great number of artworks.
In 1993, fifteen years after his death in February 1976 at the age of eighty-four, most of his artworks were donated to his birth place of the former Haibara town (now known as the Haibara district of Uda City). The year was the centennial of the town’s establishment, and the former Haibara town honorably accepted the gift from Mrs. Aya Matsuoka and the memorial group of Masao Matsuoka organized by his former students, in commemoration as part of the city’s development as a “highland cultural city.” Coincidentally, it was nearly a century since the birth of Mr. Matsuoka, and his renowned artworks marked a homecoming for the work of this extraordinary artist. It is our sincere obligation to cherish and preserve the accomplishments of the late Masao Matsuoka, a Japanese artist from Uda City.
In closing, I would like to welcome all visitors to this museum and hope that all will thoroughly enjoy the world of Masao Matsuoka.
Mayor of Uda City