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Artist, former death-row inmate Hirasawa's supporters try to put his paintings in museums

Former death-row inmate Sadamichi Hirasawa. (Mainichi)
Former death-row inmate Sadamichi Hirasawa. (Mainichi)
Supporters of a former death-row inmate who left a large trove of paintings when he passed away in prison in 1987 are trying to have his works put in museums to pass them on to future generations.

Sadamichi Hirasawa, who died in prison at age 95, always maintained his innocence in the poisoning deaths of 12 people at a branch of the Teikoku Bank in 1948 for which he was convicted. Hirasawa's supporters have contacted the city museum of art in his hometown of Otaru, Hokkaido, about accepting numerous works created before the poisoning. They are also looking for places to donate hundreds of pieces he made in prison.

Hirasawa was known as a leading figure in tempera painting in Japan. Before World War II he studied under Taikan Yokoyama, a master of Japanese-style painting. His subjects included the open spaces and nature of his native Hokkaido. His works were repeatedly accepted to the Teikoku Bijutsuin Tenrankai art exhibition, and he received permission to have his works displayed without having to go through the regular screening at the subsequent Monbusho Bijutsu Tenrankai art exhibition. Both exhibitions are predecessors of the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, also known as Nitten.

After the poisoning case, however, Hirasawa's reputation as an artist fluctuated. While some of his works were kept at the prime minister's office, many others went missing. A man who became Hirasawa's adoptive child in 1981 to support a campaign for a retrial traveled around the country collecting Hirasawa's paintings. When the man died in 2013, many of these hundreds of works were left in the hands of Hirasawa's supporters.

Some of the works have started to show clear signs of deterioration, and Hirasawa's supporters, including 83-year-old movie director Eizo Yamagiwa, began searching for somewhere to donate the works to pass them on to future generations. This year, they suggested to the Otaru art museum that it accept numerous Hirasawa paintings from before the poisoning incident.

A representative for the museum says, "Hirasawa cultivated painters in Otaru, and otherwise endeavored to advance the growth of art. His works are very precious, and if certain conditions are met, we want to accept them."

Among the paintings are ones that were apparently seized temporarily by investigators to estimate Hirasawa's financial condition at the time of the poisoning incident.

Through donating the hundreds of Hirasawa illustrations from when he was in prison, his supporters also want to create an opportunity for people to think about the appropriateness of the death penalty system.

"Looking mainly at private museums, we want to find a place that will, as much as is possible, accept all the works," says a supporter.

In November this year, relatives of Hirasawa applied for the 20th time for a retrial. Nearly 70 years have passed since the poisoning incident, however, and many of Hirasawa's supporters are now elderly.

Source: The Mainichi, December 6, 2015

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