An exhibition of paintings by a man who died of natural causes while on death row for almost 40 years will open Monday in Tokyo.

The exhibition is organized by a group of people still trying to clear Sadamichi Hirasawa’s name.

Hirasawa was sentenced to hang for the deaths of 12 people by poison in 1948.

On Jan. 26, 1948, a man passing himself off as a public health official convinced 16 clerks and customers at a Teikoku Bank branch in Tokyo to drink a liquid he claimed was a remedy for dysentery, which he said had broken out in the neighborhood. It was actually poison and 12 of the people died.

When the people were incapacitated, the man escaped with cash and checks in what came to be known as the “Teigin Incident.” Teigin is short for Teikoku Bank.

Hirasawa maintained he was innocent for the 40 years he was in prison. He died in a prison hospital in May 1987 at the age of 95.

About 30 paintings of flowers — more than 20 of them drawn in prison — will be on display at Art Gallery Dogenzaka in the Shibuya shopping district until Dec. 3.

The group says it hopes the artist’s works will convey to the public the pain and suffering of a man wrongly convicted as well as restore Hirasawa’s reputation as a painter.

“As my father was prohibited from having flowers in his cell, he drew the flowers he could see from his prison window or from his memories of before his arrest,” said Takehiko Hirasawa, an adopted son of Hirasawa. “In the leadup to the 20th anniversary of his death next year, this exhibition will be an opportunity to draw public attention to him as an artist.”

The 47-year-old has filed a 19th request for a retrial with the Tokyo High Court, which is examining the case.

Hirasawa left thousands of works, including illustrated letters, according to Takehiko. In addition to flowers, Hirasawa painted temples and landscapes.

“I felt sad when I saw my father enveloped in flowers in his coffin, when he could not have them in prison,” his son said.

Many of the paintings the award-winning tempera artist did before he was arrested have been lost or people threw them away after he was convicted.

His son has tracked down about 100 works, but only 10 are considered to be of outstanding artistic merit.

“Like my father, the paintings have also suffered bad luck over the past half-century,” he said. “But I’ll continue working to shed light on their fate.”

He said he is planning to publish a book on his father’s life as a painter before the 20th anniversary of his death next year.

He was adopted by the Hirasawa family at age 22 to support the campaign for a retrial led by his natural father, Tetsuro Morikawa, a well-known writer.


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