Japan art and female artist Uemura Shōen (1875-1949)

Japan art and female artist Uemura Shōen (1875-1949)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese female artist, Uemura Shōen (1875-1949), was fully supported by her mother to become an artist. Historically, art was controlled by Japanese men. This wasn’t unique to Japan because it was a common thread in many cultures – not all.

The Meiji Period (1868-1912) would open up more opportunities for women. Thus, with being brought up in an all-female home with her mother and aunts – – her father died shortly before she was born – her world was shaped by female role models and various aspects of culture.

Shōen adored the artist Hokusai. Hence, from a young age, her pictures showed extreme promise. This notably concerns the depiction of humans in art.

Other female artists – including Ito Shoba (1877-1968) and Kajiwara Hisako (1896-1988) – began to emerge in the Meiji period.

Shōen was born in the environs of Kyoto. Her mother also attracted a rich cultural clientele at the tea shop she owned. Therefore, the natural richness of Kyoto culture concerning architecture, holy places, gardens, the art scene, the tea ceremony, literature, and other important areas of high culture – meant Shōen naturally blended into her new artistic world.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, says, “Japanese-style painter Uemura Shoen (1875-1949) preferred motifs such as ordinary people as well as characters in history or yokyoku (Noh songs). 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 the art pieces selected in this article, you witness women in deep contemplation. Some of this contemplation is related to nature. However, given the constraints facing women artists, it is easy to imagine that she is showing a sigh to the world she knew.


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