Paintings By Forgotten Artist Kyohei Inukai Are Headed to the Brooklyn Museum

Miyoko Davey, a collector and major champion of the artist's work, is donating five of Inukai's paintings to the Brooklyn Museum.

Oil portrait of woman in white dress with red hair sitting in chair
Kyohei Inukai, Dorothy, (1933). Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is adding five works to its collection by painter Kyohei Inukai, who was largely ostracized from New York’s art world during World War II due to his Japanese heritage. The works were gifted by Manhattan art collector and researcher Miyoko Davey, who has spent decades championing Inukai’s legacy.

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Inukai, who died in 1954 at age 68, specialized in creating portraits of the elite figures of New York society. Davey’s donation of four portraits and one landscape supports the Brooklyn Museum’s goal of expanding its holdings by Japanese American artists.

Born in Okayama, Japan, Inukai immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and studied at San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. He made his way to New York City by 1915 and was regularly the only Japanese artist admitted into exhibitions at the National Academy of Design and the Grand Central Art Galleries. His successful career as a portraitist included sittings with Madison Grant, the conservationist with eugenicist tendencies who helped found the Bronx Zoo, and Thomas J. Watson Sr., the former CEO of IBM.

SEE ALSO: Why Defining Exactly Who Is and Isn’t an Artist Matters

During World War II, however, his career took a turn. Like many other Japanese Americans, Inukai faced intense racism after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, was cast out of his social circles and was subsequently no longer able to make a living from his art. He captured this period of his life in an unfinished autobiography that was later published by Davey. “The tranquil air that spanned the sky is changed with crosscurrents of acrid recriminations,” wrote Inukai in his memoir, titled Confessions of a Heathen.

Miyoko Davey, an art collector on a mission

Davey, who included the autobiography in a 2014 monograph, first came across the artist’s work when she and her late husband John acquired Inukai’s portrait of his mistress Dorothy Hampton at Christie’s in 1988. Collecting dozens more paintings and a trove of archival materials relating to Inukai, she has spent the past few decades attempting to bring attention to the largely forgotten artist. The collector is also a supporter of organizations like New York’s Japan Society, which supports Japanese communities in the U.S., and in 2012 founded the John and Miyoko Davey Foundation to grant scholarships to Japanese students studying in America.

Despite falling into relative obscurity in the 20th Century, both Inukai and his son—a fellow artist who bears the same name as Inukai—have in recent years received more attention from art institutions and scholars, according to the Brooklyn Museum. The junior Inukai, who died in 1985 with an oeuvre of more than 2,000 abstract and pop artworks, was last year the subject of a solo exhibition at the Japan Society.

Now, two of Davey’s gifted Inukai works are set to be displayed in the Brooklyn Museum’s reinstalled American Art galleries when they open this October during the museum’s bicentennial celebration. The reinstallation will emphasize perspectives from historically excluded voices, including works by other Japanese American artists like Bumpei Usui, Chiura Obata, Hisako Hibi, Okada Kenzo and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. “It is a tremendous acquisition that falls perfectly in line with our mission for our reimagined American Art galleries: to expand the representation, engagement, and research of previously marginalized American artists,” said Stephanie Sparling Williams, the museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, in a statement.

Paintings By Forgotten Artist Kyohei Inukai Are Headed to the Brooklyn Museum