Tuesday, November 3, 2009

History and the Woman Artist

A few years ago, I attended an exhibition of woodblock prints at a local art museum. Since this was a show of ukiyo-e (see Blog Archives "Japonisme and the Impressionists"), there were a considerable number of works by Japanese masters. This was to be expected. However, there were also color print works of a very high quality rendered by late-19th/ early 20th century American and European women. I was surprised and intrigued. Curiosity got the best of me - always does - and I did some research.

I found that there were well-respected women woodblock artists and printers who studied in Asia - especially Japan. The ones who were highly recognized enjoyed sold-out exhibitions, solo shows in Japan and acceptance into the inner circles of art. Some of the women artists/printers who enjoyed that kind of fame during their lifetimes included Helen Hyde, Elizabeth Keith and Bertha Lum. (Hyde print at top left; Keith on right; Lum on left)

Characteristically, they were focused and independent-minded women. Keith prided herself on being a self-taught artist, Lum was married but went to Japan to study, and Hyde, who never married, was delighted when her art allowed her financial independence. Lum and Keith would live into the 1950s. Yet, what do we know of them today?

Historically, there are few women artists whose works are known in wider circles. In all probability, almost anyone can name 20 or more male artists for every one woman artist who has reached such a lasting reputation. Why do you think that is?


  1. Those women created beautiful prints. I especially like the one on the right. It is beautiful. As the world goes, it seems that just now women are beginning to have high-profile political positions of power. So, maybe one day we'll be recognized in other areas. Thanks for art and thought provoking topics. Ellie

  2. No one loves the block print like I do and have done some. To have been successful as a woman and in that field is extraordinary. Women were expected to have babies and stay home back then. At least now we are free to create and compete anyway. Thanks for sharing these women's stories.

  3. I vote for Berta Lum. I just love her moon gate print. Wow... nice way to end my email/internet browsing. Wish I owned that print! Di

  4. Thanks for yor blog updates. You are getting into some important stuff with the women artists. Stan

  5. Very interesting. so many things of importance happened many years ago and we generally not aware of them in today's world. Francis