Tennis play and the papillons in the paintings may refer to the works of Nabokov
8 min

The Looking Glass for Vamp Fairies By Kuniyoshi Kaneko

8 min

The notorious drawings by Kuniyoshi Kaneko (1936-2015), whose ancestors were brothel keepers in the Yoshiwara district, indeed have a similar grotesque vibe as the Night Procession of the Hundred Demons of his namesake. Yet his art also has a rich Western background that is amusing to recognize. The world of Kaneko's paintings is a dream-like place balancing between a nightmare and a fairytale, heavily inspired by the Freudian interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Alice and the aesthetics of Nabokov's Lolita. The peak of his artistic activity fell on the 1970s when huge debates on the age of consent happened among the French intellectuals.

 Kuniyoshi Kaneko with a cat

Fig. 1. Kuniyoshi Kaneko with a cat (

Kuniyoshi Kaneko artist

Fig. 2.

Kuniyoshi Kaneko erotic art

Fig. 3.

 Pluviere by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 4. Pluviere (

 Pluviere by Kuniyoshi Kaneko female with cat

Fig. 5.

 Ariadne by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 6. Ariadne (

 Ariadne II on the cover of Fujimi Roman Bunko

Fig. 7. Ariadne II on the cover of Fujimi Roman Bunko (

 Ariadne II on the cover of Fujimi Roman Bunko  kaneko

Fig. 8.

 kuniyoshi kaneko Alice in Wonderland

Fig. 9.

 Kuniyoshi Kaneko Alice

Fig. 10.

 Alice with playing cards by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 11.

Tennis play and the papillons in the paintings may refer to the works of Nabokov

Fig. 12. Tennis play and the papillons in the paintings may refer to the works of Nabokov, since tennis and entomology were his hobbies.

 La Papillon by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 13. La Papillon (

 Untitled Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 14. Untitled (

The Sunsets and the Mouse

According to the official website, Kuniyoshi Kaneko was born in 1936 on July 23rd as a healthy baby weighing 3950 grams. Only two years old, Kaneko drew sunsets with crayons, which amazed his mother. Such an early manifestation of the talent brings to mind the famous legend about a tiny mouse that sprung out of the feet of painter Sesshu (1420-1506); fortunately, unlike Sesshu-kid, little Kaneko didn't have to draw the life-like creatures in sand with a big toe as a brush and his tears as a paint; nobody tied Kaneko’s hands for the whole day to discourage him from painting instead of doing the monk apprentice's chores. Yet, Kaneko's adolescence was also connected with a religious institution as, in 1950, he started attending Sunday school at Ginza Church of Christ. But it was at the Warabi Daiichi National School where he received primary artistic training after enrolling there in 1943. The young pupil was especially good at drawing, crafts, and calligraphy.

 Kuniyoshi Kaneko litho

Fig. 15.

Marquise de Sade by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 16. Marquise de Sade (

 Myra by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 17. Myra (

 kuniyoshi kaneko Japanese artist

Fig. 18.

 Sade’s Juliette by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 19. Sade’s Juliette, 1972 (

 Kuniyoshi Kaneko Sade’s Juliette

Fig. 20. Sade’s Juliette (

 Stuffed girl by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 21. Stuffed girl (

Falling for Everything

In 1951, impressed by the dance performances of Sonia Alloa, Kaneko secretly attended ballet lessons. The following year, when the artist enrolled at the Seigakuin High School, became a movie era; the teenager was particularly mesmerized by An American in Paris and Roman Holiday. Two years later, passionate about everything beautiful, Kaneko discovered the fashion world and turned into an avid reader of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, though his debut as a designer happened back in 1947 when he got a role in a school play. With these background interests, the twenty-year-old artist entered the Nihon University College of Art to study under Kabuki stage designer Motohiro Nagasaka.

 kuniyoshi kaneko

Fig. 22.

Blooming Maidens by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 23. Blooming Maidens (

kuniyoshi kaneko artwork

Fig. 24.

Blooming Maidens Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 25. Blooming Maidens (

Blooming Maidens Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 26. Blooming Maidens (

Blooming Maidens Kuniyoshi Kaneko art

Fig. 27. Blooming Maidens (

Kuniyoshi Kaneko erotic art

Fig. 28.

Balthus, Bellmer, and Blooming Maidens

During his studies, Kaneko worked as a stage designer and switched to commercial design after graduating only to be fired after three months of work. In 1964, he began to learn oil painting by himself and met Tatsushiko Shibusawa a year later. The translator of de Sade, who studied medieval demonology and was a huge devotee of modern Western art, encouraged Kaneko to organize an exhibition of his oil canvases and probably inspired the specific content of his works. While it's certain that he popularized the art of Bellmer in Japan, we can only suppose his role in promoting artists like Balthus, who was especially important for Kaneko's pubescent eroticism.

kuniyoshi kaneko Balthus

Fig. 29. Untitled (

kuniyoshi kaneko Balthus detail


erotica by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 30.

Peeping through Clothes by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Fig. 31. Peeping through Clothes (

Kaneko 1962

Fig. 32. Kaneko, 1962 (

Balthus, Guitar Lesson, 1934

Fig. 32a. Balthus, Guitar Lesson, 1934 (

In the extended Premium edition of the article we're going to delve much deeper into Kaneko's art.

Click HERE for an article on one of Kaneko's greatest influences, the Polish-French artist Balthus