Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shoen Uemura

Shoen Uemura  Title, Date and Location unknown

Shoen Uemura is the "art name" of Japanese painter Tsune Uemura (1875-1949.) Uemura was unusual in just about every way a person or artist could be. To begin with, she was born two months after the death of her father, and lived with her mother, sister and aunts in an all-female household, whose livelihood was running a tea shop. Having no male associates (relatives or protectors) was a somewhat unusual set-up for a business in late 19th century Kyoto, but the business was apparently highly thought-of and successful. Uemura showed great talent and interest in drawing from an early age, and she was supported in this interest by her mother, a very brave and unusual decision for the time and the family circumstances.

Uemura began her formal art training at age twelve with painter Suzuki Shōnen, who was so impressed with her talent that he gave her the first kanji of his own art name, an unheard of mark of recognition. It was later rumored that Uemura was the victim of Suzuki's sexual predation, and being very little more than a child, lacking any male relatives or protectors, and needing the master's tuition and help with career advancement she silently put up with it. Uemura bore at least two illegitimate children at this time, she refused to name the father and she calmly proceeded to raise them as a single mother (we have to assume with her mother and aunts' help.) In 1894 she changed teachers, and studied with no further imputations to her moral reputation. Her immense talent was never in question, and she won her first local award in 1898 and her first national award in 1900. From the very first Uemura's aesthetic interest lay almost entirely in Bijingathe depiction of beautiful women.

Shoen Uemura  Title, Date and Location unknown 

Although she had achieved a considerable artistic reputation by 1917, she mysteriously ceased all artistic production from 1917 until about 1924. She never gave any explanation for this cessation. She began exhibiting work again in 1924. During the 1930's when Uemura was in her fifties and sixties she suddenly began painting on a very large scale. The work from this period is considered to be her strongest, and contains most of what are considered her masterpieces. One of these pieces, Jo-No-Mai , 1936, was the first painting by a Japanese woman to be rated as an Important Cultural Property.  She was the first woman invited to join the Imperial Art Academy, which honor was conferred upon her in 1941. In 1948 she again achieved a first, this time as the first woman to be awarded Japan's prestigious Order of Culture. Her autobiography, which I cannot find in an English translation, alas, is called Siebishi sono go. Uemura's work was the subject of a large solo exhibition in 2010 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo


Marianne Fineberg said...

Fascinating and very beautiful. Thank you for introducing her!

Nancy Bea Miller said...

You're welcome! My pleasure. She is fascinating...how I wish her autobiography was translated into English.

Quilter's Diary said...

I had never heard of her, in spite of living in Japan. I love the delicacy of her colors. What kind of paint did she use? These almost look like watercolors, but the colors seem too rich.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Traditional mineral pigments is what the available information says. So, a kind of water-based painting, probably using ink wash, watercolor and gouache.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

I suppose she may be not actually a household name in Japan, but her work has been on two postage stamps, and her own image on another...so that along with all the major government honors and big museum shows etc. makes me think she must be at least pretty well-known, in artistic circles at least!? I hope?! ;-)