Chiura Obata (1885-1975):From the Sierra to the Sea, portfolio of eleven watercolor paintings
Lot 9058
Chiura Obata (1885-1975):From the Sierra to the Sea
Sold for US$ 12,925 inc. premium
Lot Details
Property ov various owners
Chiura Obata (1885-1975):From the Sierra to the Sea
Portfolio of eleven paintings in watercolor and sumi, accompanied by printed translations from the artist's poetry, published in Berkeley, California: Archetype Press, 1937; contents: title page; I. Windfalls on Tioga pass; II. Mighty Yosemite falls; III. Evening in the Santa Cruz mountains; IV. Winter moonlight in the redwoods; V. Autumn glow on the campus; VI. A foggy night in San Francisco; VII. Rainy afternoon near Gilroy; VIII. Frosty dawn near the delta; IX. The strike at Baker's beach; X. Pescadero landscape; XI. Morning glory and evening glory; each painting within a folded protective sheet and the portfolio cover bearing a printed roundel of man opposite a deer, surrounded by characters reading Yama kara umi ni (From the mountains to the sea).


  • Note: although the title page describes an edition "Limited to fifty portfolios, twenty five of which are for sale" the actual number printed may be as few as five. Two copies are in the collection of the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley (one an artist's presentation copy); another is thought to be owned by the artist's family. The title page and poems were printed at the hand press of Wilder and Ellen Bentley in 1937. Wilder Bentley (1900-1989) was a well-known printer, poet, calligrapher, and liberal arts professor from Berkeley. Obata collaborated with Bentley on at least one other occasion, contributing a cover illustration to Robin Lampson's The Mending of a Continent, also published by Bentley's press in 1937.

    Chiura Obata was born in 1885 in Okayama Prefecture, and grew up in Sendai. After a period of study in Tokyo with Japanese-style painters Murata Tanryo (1874-1940), Terazaki Kogyo (1866-1919), and Hashimoto Gaho (1835-1905), Obata left Japan for the United States. Settling in San Francisco in 1903, he made on-the-scene sketches of the 1906 earthquake's aftermath, and worked for a time as a newspaper illustrator. In the summer of 1927, Obata visited the Yosemite high country, making extesnive watercolor sketches of the impressive scenery there. The following year, during a visit to Japan, his sketches were transformed into his most famous work, a a series of thirty-five woodblock prints he called the World Landscape Series (see Lot 9059).

    The watercolor sketches for From the Sierra to the Sea were made during the mid-1930's, a period when Obata was active in the Bay Area both as a painting teacher at U.C. Berkeley, and as an artist, exhibiting his work in several one-man shows. His colleagues on the Berkeley faculty were other prominent members of the California Watercolor School; as a teacher, Obata instructed many students in Japanese brush painting methods. Despite his success in the late 1930's and 40's, Obata was interned with his family for over a year during the Second World War. After a brief stay in the midwest following his release, Obata moved back to Berkeley, where he continued his life as an esteemed teacher and painter for the next three decades.

    Obata's paintings for the portfolio are often sketchy to the point of abstraction, reducing the urban or landscape setting to a few evocative elements. Juxtaposing such deceptively simple paintings with suggestive, fragmentary verse is a technique with deep roots in Japanese tradition; as early as the Heian period (794-1185) artists combined words and pictures in works known as uta-e, or poem-pictures. In the portfolio, Obata matches his verse with scenery from his beloved Northern California, including a Hopper-esque street corner in San Francisco, autumn leaves in Berkeley, Yosemite Falls, the Sacramento River delta, and the coast at Pescadero, among other locales.