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Čiurlionis Returns: Celebrating Artistic Legacy in Japan after 33 Years

Čiurlionis Returns: Celebrating Artistic Legacy in Japan after 33 Years

In 2026, the National Museum of Western Art will host an exhibition showcasing the artwork of Mikalojus K. Čiurlionis, marking a return after a hiatus of 33 years. This momentous occasion is in honour of the artist’s upcoming 150th birth anniversary, to be celebrated in 2025.

Interest in Čiurlionis began in Japan in the 1960s. The first auditions and exhibitions of reproductions were organized by the Čiurlionis Society, set up under the guidance of musicologist Professor Ichiro Kato. “Čiurlionis’s paintings, especially their colours and themes, are unique. As Japanese, in his paintings, we even find several features typical of Japanese art,” wrote Ichiro Kato in 1969. At that time, Čiurlionis’s artistic legacy found resonance in far-off geographical regions through personal connections.

In the 1980s, the Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who visited Lithuania, was interested in the possibility of hosting an exhibition of Čiurlionis’s artwork in Japan. However, the intentions of the Japanese delegation, upon arrival in Kaunas, were thwarted by the fragile nature of the artworks, the logistical challenges, and the increasingly difficult political situation in the country, which posed the greatest risk, so the plans to showcase Čiurlionis in Japan had to be postponed.

Finally, when Lithuania regained its independence, representatives of Tokyo’s Sezon Art Museum visited Kaunas again. Seeing Lithuania’s difficult economic situation and the limited resources of the National Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis Art Museum, the Japanese took the initiative. Lithuanians were impressed by their adeptness in organizing the content of the exhibition with scholarly precision as well as their flexibility to meet the expectations of the Čiurlionis Museum.

In 1992, the Sezon Art Museum hosted the first exhibition of a Lithuanian artist, Čiurlionis abroad: Fin-de-siècle Lithuanian Fantasist and Mystic. It featured 165 exhibits: mainly paintings, ink prints, fluorophores, drawings, postcards, letters, and music manuscripts. The exhibition was opened by Emperor Akihito and Vytautas Landsbergis, Chairman of the Supreme Council-Reconstituent Seimas. There was also the composer’s music, accompanied by a series of lectures. Archival material, two exhibition catalogues and a collection of postcards were also on display. The record company King’s Records released several CDs featuring Čiurlionis’s compositions.

The exhibition to be held in Japan after 33 years should be accompanied by a program of concerts, meetings, and education events. A delegation from the National Museum of Western Art, led by its Director, Dr. Masayuki Tanaka, is expected to visit Lithuania this May on a fact-finding mission.