Saturday, September 22, 2012

Uemura, Shoen

New autumn
c. 1940 - 45
ink and color on silk
66.0 × 72.0 cm
Menard Art Museum, Komaki, Aichi, Japan

Uemura, Shoen (1875 - 1949) was an important woman artist in modern Japanese painting. Shoen was known primarily for her paintings of beautiful women in the Japanese-style art, although she also produced numerous works on historical themes and traditional subjects.

Shoen was born in Kyoto, as the second daughter of a tea merchant. She was born two months after the death of her father and thus grew up together with her mother and aunts in an all female household. Her mother’s tea shop attracted a refined, cultured clientele for the art of Japanese tea ceremony.

As a child she drew pictures, while her mother bustled about the shop. Even the customers were attracted by the beauty of her drawings, although she was just a small girl. Unusually for the times, her mother supported her daughter's decision to pursue art as a career. She was obsessed with the works of Hokusai (1760-1849), a famous Ukiyo-e wood block artist.

Themes and elements from the traditional Noh drama frequently appeared in her works, but images of beautiful women (bijinga) came to dominate her works. Eventually, her works would combine the themes of both Noh and women together into a single composition. She put strong affections into persons in her paintings, but at the same time maintained stern distance from them to produce graceful, sometimes somewhat rigorous portraits throughout her career.

In 1941, Shoen became the first woman painter in Japan to be invited to join the Imperial Art Academy. She was also appointed a court painter to the Imperial Household Agency in 1944. In 1948, she became the first woman to be awarded Japan's prestigious Order of Culture.  She continued painting until her death in 1949.