Setsuko (1942-2015) was born in Japan and was the daughter of an ancient Samurai family. She received a Western education, but also learned the traditional arts of her native country : music, poetry and shimai dancing.
In Tokyo in 1962 she met Balthus, painter of the Turkish Room and many other major works, and very soon afterwards went to join him in Rome, where he was President of the Villa Medici. It was there, after their marriage, that they entertained all the great writers, painters and film-makers of the day. They also bought the mediaeval castle of Monte Calvello in the countryside outside Rome. In furnishing it, she managed to create a happy marriage of two styles, the old stonework of the castle harmonising perfectly with the Japanese furniture and decor of her childhood.
Since 1977 they have lived in Switzerland, creating a new environment for her work in the Grand Chalet at Rossinière, another place of pure enchantment, where Setsuko’s talent finally found its fullest expression. The hostess and decorator became a painter.
Her first patron was her daughter Harumi. For her she drew stories in pictures, created gleaming marionettes, giving new life and colour, not only to her familiar toy animals, but also to the princesses in her fairy stories.
For Balthus she made patchwork cushions, patterned with the silhouettes of strange, oddly human-looking cats.
She is essentially a painter of still-lives, and yet everything in them seems to have a life and movement of its own. Setsuko reinvents each object line by line, transforming it with glowing colour and lustre, becoming in a sense its maker a second time, endowing every-day things with grace and harmony in the tradition of Japanese painting.
The keenness of her eye, the purity of her line, the detail of her drawing, the lack of shadow and near-absence of perspective all evoke a universe of sleek serenity, a world apart, secure in their own space, their own time.
For the Mouton Rothschild 1991 label, Setsuko retells in her own way the timeless story of wine : the brunch of grapes that once was blossom and became fruit, full as an ear of wheat at harvest time ; then, in the end, the long-awaited denouement, the wine in the decanter and the pleasure in drinking it.