Uncannily Prescient: Notre-Dame de Paris Painted by Chizuru Morii Kaplan

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Uncannily Prescient: Notre-Dame de Paris Painted by Chizuru Morii Kaplan
New York based-artist Chizuru Morii Kaplan’s delicate, smoky watercolors painted on enormous Arches paper captured my heart several years ago and have remained favorites ever since. This winter her exhibition at Hugo Galerie in Soho included one work from her Notre Dame series. The encounter brought tears to my eyes. Although I knew the work, this time the ghostly palette transformed the meaning from sheer elegance to mournful memorial. For there alone in the middle of Manhattan, a deeply disturbing reality returned: Notre Dame’s fine tracery, jewel hued stain-glassed windows, and Gothic magnificence, now stood charred amid burnt ruins in Paris. I sent an email to Chiruzu Morii Kaplan right away to ask about her recollect of the day she heard the news of Notre Dame’s devastating fire. She wrote back: “April 15, 2019 – afternoon. I was at my studio in NYC, painting a scene called Paris Rooftops, preparing for an upcoming exhibition. At 2:25pm I received a text from one of my dear artist friends: “Oh my goodness, Chi. Have you seen this sad news (with the picture Notre Dame on fire) I thought of you immediately…” I have always been captivated by old European structures. Many of my paintings focus on classic, European architecture. I am captivated by not only the beauty, but also by all the history – the human conditions that echo in these buildings. I painted Notre Dame numerous times. When I go to Paris, I have always stayed near Luxembourg Garden and the first thing I do is walk to Notre Dame and say “Hello” to her. She always welcomes me with such dignity, but gracefully. Then I know I am in Paris. It was devastating to watch this beautiful, historical building burn. I was speechless. But over the past year one thing that has encouraged me is how people united in rebuilding Notre Dame. It reminds me that we’ll meet tragedy in life but with effort, we can always rebuild something even greater. This is our ongoing challenge. I paint with watercolor. I construct images and deconstruct them, and construct and deconstruct repeatedly — many times. Then something else comes out. This I learned from my mentor, Paul Ching-Bor. Humans created these amazing structures of Notre Dame with wisdom, knowledge and courage many centuries ago. I have hope that the cathedral will be rebuilt into something even greater with our human wisdom, creativity and courage.” Once more the spiritual connection I always feel when studying Chizuru Morii Kaplan’s work intensified as I learned she too greeted Notre Dame as soon as she arrived in Paris. We shared this revelation after she read the Bonjour Paris homage to Notre Dame curated by our editor Mary Winston Nicklin last April. Thank you so much, Chizuru, for honoring Notre-Dame de Paris with this wondrously haunting digital exhibition that seems to express our thoughts as we approach the first anniversary of Notre Dame’s devastating fire. Born in Japan, Chizuru Morii Kaplan studied architectural and interior design in Tokyo and then stuck out on her own as a freelance architectural renderer in Tokyo, Chicago, and New York, working for the extremely important firms lead by I.M. Pei, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Junzo Sakakura, and Antonio Raymond, among others. In 2007, Morii Kaplan turned her artistic attention toward rendering form in watercolor.  She studied with Paul Ching-Bor at the Art Students League of New York. She has won numerous awards and scholarships, including a fellowship to study at the Paris American Academy in Paris. Her paintings have been exhibited in New York at Hubert Gallery, The National Arts Club Gallery, Bertrand Delacroix Gallery, Hugo Galerie, Art365 Gallery, and Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery. She has also exhibited at Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Missouri, Eckert Fine Art Gallery in Kent Connecticut and Windsor Fine Art Gallery in New Orleans. Reviewed often, her work has been featured in SPLASH, The Best of Watercolor, Watercolor Artist Magazine, and The Artist’s Magazine. In a 2016 review of her paintings at Hubert Gallery, I wrote: “While these images seem to ‘emerge,’ the artist provides us with an opportunity to contemplate transitional, ephemeral phenomena, such as light, clouds and weather. We savor the fleeing in an ocular embrace.” Today, as we contemplate Morii Kaplan’s Notre Dame series, we savor the memory. Chizuru Morii Kaplan’s current and upcoming exhibitions: Hugo Galerie in SoHo, NYC, January 6-February 16, 2020. Windsor Fine Art Gallery, New Orleans, February 2020 Art Palm Springs with Eckert Fine Art, February 13 -17, 2020  Art on Paper with Eckert Fine Art, Mar. 5 – Mar. 8 Hubert Gallery, NYC, May 2-16, 2020

Lead photo credit : Chizuru Morii Kaplan, Flying Buttresses, Paris, 29 x 41 inches (Private Collection)

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Mercy College in Westchester, New York. She published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art." Her most recent book is a translation and annotation of "Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and 'Young French Painting,'" with an introduction by Jacqueline Gojard.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2020-02-29 14:16:27
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Thank you so much, Marilyn. It has been a pleasure and honor to visit Chizuru Morii Kaplan's studio and learn more about her work. These Notre Dame paintings are examples of her magnificent body of work. I hope you have the opportunity to see her work in person. Best wishes, Beth


  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2020-02-24 14:40:59
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Thanks Beth for another fab article. I had never heard of Kaplan before but have looked up.her paintings since reading your article. Absolutely beautiful-I can understand your fascination in her work. Thanks again. Marilyn