"Early Works"

"Woman" Series

"Myths/Folk Tales" Series

C57-001 From Kojiki
Setagaya Art Museum
C57-003 From Kojiki
Nagoya City Art Museum

"Abstract Paintings" Series

"Pastel Paintings" Series


Saori (Madokoro) Akutagawa, 1924.5.24-1966.1.31, was a painter from Takashi Village, Atsumi County, Aichi Prefecture (now Toyohashi City). Focusing on the 1950s, she was one of the few avant-garde female painters at the time, and she is also an artist who paved the way with her completely unique technique of dyeing.


Saori (Madokoro) Akutagawa (maiden name Yamada) was born in 1924 (Taisho 13) in Takashi Village, Atsumi County, Aichi Prefecture (now Toyohashi City). After graduating from the Tokyo Music School (currently Tokyo University of the Arts) vocal music department, she married composer Yasushi Akutagawa. However, after being married, she refrained from singing at home and gave up her vocal career. At this time, she resumed painting, which she did during her school days. She attended Gen-ichiro Inokuma’s research institute where she learned oil painting, and batik from Michikata Noguchi.

1953: She submitted her work to the 17th Shinseiksaku Kyokai Exhibition at the recommendation of Keiko Akaana, but she was not selected.

1954: She was featured at the 6th Japan Independent Exhibition. At the 4th Modern Art Association Exhibition, she exhibited works such as “Woman” and won the Newcomer Award. She held seven women’s exhibitions with Machi Abe, Rila Oda, Satoko Ogushi, Tomoko Onosato, Yayoi Kusama, and Kei Mori. She traveled for several months with her husband in China, the USSR and Eastern Europe. Her visit to the Soviet Union at this time influenced her to create her works themed around folk tales.

1955: At the recommendation of Taro Okamoto, she moved to Nikakai with Taizo Yoshinaka and Noriaki Fujisawa. She received a special award for her dying works “Woman B” and “Woman Ⅺ” at the 40th Nikakai Taro Okamoto Room (Room 9). That September, an exhibition of Mexican art impressed her. She said, “I saw Tamayo’s paintings in the original color version of an art magazine before, and I was terribly fascinated with the mysterious colors.” She held a solo exhibition at the Muramatsu Gallery featuring “Folk tale of Kukunochi” and “Prince Izanagi Creating Japanese Islands”. She was featured in “Today’s Newcomer, 1955 Exhibition” at the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura with “Princess Ototatchibana-hime Drowning into the Sea” and “Kukunochi Pushing Up the Heavens”.

1956: She held her 3rd solo exhibition at Muramatsu Gallery, showing “From Kojiki”. In this year, she divorced Yasushi Akutagawa.

1958: She left Japan for United States during the raging Isewan Typhoon. She studied graphic design at the Los Angeles Art Center School. She was selected for the Ross County Museum Public Exhibition.

1960: She arrived in New York. She participated in the 14th Women Artist Association Japan-U.S. Exchange Exhibition (Riverside Museum, New York) as an exhibitor in the United States with Yuki Katsura, Takaei Murao, and Yayoi Kusama (under the name of Saori Yamada). During her stay in New York, she studied oil painting at the Will Burnett School of the Art Students League.

1962: She returned to Japan, where she held her 4th solo exhibition at the Showa Gallery, featuring her work she had done during her time in the United States.

1963: She exhibited “Black Shape B” at the 17th Women Artist Association Exhibition. In this year, she married architect Yukio Madokoro.

1965: Her work “Sphinx” was featured at the 19th Woman Artist Association Exhibition.

1966: She died due to pregnancy related complications.

"Early Works"

It can be seen, that she was seeking her own style heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Yoshishige Saito and Taro Okamoto. What made her work so unique is her humorous depiction of human figures through botanical shapes and lines. Until around 1954, she worked in parallel with oil painting and dyeing.

Details of "Early Works"

"Woman" Series

A woman stands in the center of the screen. Saori repeatedly depicted these women who scream and let their hair stand on end. The title “Woman” was used repeatedly from early to late years, and it was a very important theme for her. “Woman”, which insists burning rage, takes up and delves into a personal problem that is completely different from other artists of the period.

Details of "Woman" Series

"Myths/Folk Tales" Series

She chose her favorite subjects from Japanese legends and drew the characters in such a way that you could tell that she had thought about their stories, and translated her views of them to canvas using bold and vivid colors. In particular, this is seen in her representative work “the Kojiki”. Izanagi slashes the fire god, who brought death to his wife Izanami with a sword, and he then pursues Izanami, but he runs away from a disfigured form of his wife. The story unfolds dynamically like a picture scroll. In this “Myths/Folk Tales” Series, Saori maximizes the development of the themes by adding her own insight with her freewheeling imagination.

Details of "Myths/Folk Tales" Series

"Abstract Paintings" Series

Taking advantage of her trip to the United States, Saori completely changed her established style of painting. The characters, which were drawn dynamically in vivid colors, were disappeared, and she began to draw abstract paintings that combine organic forms with a limited number of 2-3 colors.

Details of "Abstract Paintings" Series

"Pastel Paintings" Series

Saori left behind many drawings and pastel paintings that she drew between working on her main body of work. Although there are no titles and the production years are unknown, all of them are fully express her world of view.

Details of "Pastel Paintings" Series


"Saori Akutagawa Exhibition" Yokosuka Museum of Art, Catalog, 2009


Shin-ichi Segi "Drama of a Woman Who Devoted her Life to Painting", "Special Feature: Saori Akutagawa's Isaku, Vivid Mythical World", "Geijutsu Sekai" September 1973

"77 Avant-Garde Female Artists in Japan Chosen by France" (Roundtable: Yoshiaki Higashino, Yusuke Nakahara, Ichiro Hariu), Geijutsu Shincho, November 1986 issue

Reiko Kokatsu "Japan's Avant-Garde Female Artists and Fabrics: Madokoro Akutagawa Saori, Yukiko (Yuki) Katsura, and Yayoi Kusama", "Kawamura Gakuen Women's University: Women's Studies Annual Report No. 4", Institute of Women's Studies, 2007


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