Key Sato

1906 – 1978

Born in Oita in 1906 in Japan, Key Sato is the eldest of the Japanese artists who settled in Paris after the war. He is one of the great faces of the Ecole de Paris.

Graduated from the Fine Arts School of Tokyo in 1929, he exhibited at the National Salon of Tokyo from 1926 where he excelled in winning the speciality prize in 1932. At this point, he was widely recognised as a figurative painter in his home country. It was during his first trip to Paris from 1930 to 1934, when he was a student at the Colarossi Academy, that he became fascinated by Picasso’s cubist works.
Upon his return to Japan in 1934, he deliberated his painting style, and gradually moved towards abstraction. He attempted to move away from his virtuoso technique in order to find a more mature style of painting, applying layer after layer to create a ruggedness in the relief, far distant from the Japanese raffinement he had relinquished. In 1936, he became the founding member of the Shinseisaku association (“New Creation”), and also became a board member of the Museum of Modern Art of Kamakura.

Key Sato returned to Paris in 1952. Heavily inspired by nature and minerals, his works bring about his memories, into a sort of geological dreamery; bathed in browns, blacks, earths, ochre, and parts in violet and red. His studio, located at Cité Falguière, accommodated a large number of stones, driftwood, branches and bark, used to decorate his canvases. Key Seto’s work sits outside of time, between the ephemere and the gestual.
His first exhibition in Paris took place in 1954 at the Mirador Gallery, and he went on to join the Massol Gallery in 1959. He made his debut at the Salon de Mai in 1955 where he exhibited until 1961, travelling vastly in Europe and the United States. He regularly exhibited in solo and collective exhibitions. In 1960 he took part in the Venice Biennale with seven large works of art previously exhibited at the Massol Gallery. In 1966, his work was presented during a collective exhibition entitled “New Japanese Painting and Sculpture: an exhibition” at the MOMA in New York.

The artist passed away in 1978 at the age of 72, and a tribute was made to him at the Yoshii Gallery in Paris.


– 1934 Sanmaido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
– 1954 Galerie Mirador, Paris, France
– 1954 Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
– 1956 Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
– 1959 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris, France
– 1960 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris, France
– 1961 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris, France
– 1964 Hamilton Galleries, London, France
– 1965 World House Gallery, New York, USA
– 1968 Galerie Cavalero, Cannes, France
– 1970 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris, France
– 1972 Galerie Cavalero, Cannes, France
– 1973 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris, France
– 1974 Centro d’arte Settimiano, Rome, Italy
– 1976 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris (retrospective), France
– 1979 Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris, France
– 1979 Galerie Yoshii, Tokyo, Japan
– 1979 Oita Prefectural Art Hall, Oita, Japan


– 1926 -1929 The National Art Centre, Tokyo, Japan
– 1931-1933 Salon d’Automne, Paris, France
– 1951 Carnegie Museum, New York, USA
– 1952 et 1964 Carnegie International Exhibition of Pittsburgh, USA
– 1957 International Exhibition of Carrera, First Prize (engraving), Italy
– 1958 Artistes Japonais (“Japanese Artists”), Musée Galliera, Paris, France
– 1960 30th Venice Biennale, Italy
– 1963 Avant-Garde Japanese art exhibition, Milan, Italy
– 1963 Tokyo Biennale, Japan
– 1963 Sao Paulo Biennial, Brazil
– 1963 Premier Salon International des Galeries Pilotes, Lausanne, Switzerland
– 1964 Menton Biennale, Switzerland, First Prize
– 1966 « The New Japanese Painting and Sculpture: an exhibition », Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
– 1969 Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Paris, France


– Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
– National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
– Oita Prefectural Art Museum, Japan
– Nerima Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
– Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hiyama, Japan
– Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa, Nagano, Japan
– Atheneum Art Collection, Helsinki, Finland
– Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom
– Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France

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