Matthew McKelway specializes in the history of Japanese painting. He earned his doctorate at Columbia University and conducted his doctoral research at Gakushūin University, where he has spent three additional years as a visiting scholar. His research has focused on urban representation in rakuchū rakugai zu (screen paintings of Kyoto), the development of genre painting in early modern Japan, Kano school painting, and individualist painters in 18th century Kyoto. Interests in the materiality and techniques of Japanese painting and the early Kano workshop have led to recent articles and a current book project on fan paintings as media for social intercourse and pictorial experimentation. In addition to his research on fan paintings, he is conducting an ongoing study of the painter Nagasawa Rosetsu.
The courses McKelway offers include surveys of Japanese art and more specialized undergraduate courses on painting and Buddhist art. Topics of graduate seminars and lectures have ranged from narrative handscrolls and Muromachi ink painting to the Kano school, Rimpa, and Edo-period painting. To graduate students in Japanese art history and other disciplines he also offers instruction in reading early Japanese scripts (hentaigana / kuzushiji). Current doctoral students have received research fellowships from the Fulbright commission, the Japan Foundation, the Japanese Ministry of Education, and the Shinchō Foundation.
Professor McKelway has been the Ishibashi Gastprofessur at the University of Heidelberg, and has also held visiting professorships at the Free University of Berlin and Waseda University.