30 April 2011

Kobayashi Kaichi: From Nouveau To Deco In Showa Japan

 I continue to find new things to admire in the Leonard Lauder Collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for instance these woodblock prints by  the little known artist from Kyoto, Kobayashi Kaichi.
Leonard Lauder (b. 1933),  son of Estee Lauder and brother of Ronald Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Galerie in Manhattan,  began collecting  postcards at  the age  of six.  By the time Lauder donated his collection to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2003, it numbered in the thousands.  

The public began to get an idea of the breadth of the collection the next year through an exhibition - and book - The Art of the Japanese Postcard.

Among other surprises, a neglected area of Japanese art emerged.  The early Showa period between the two world wars is often overlooked by westerners,  who focus instead on the revelation of ukiyo-e prints first seen in the west during the (ate 19th century.
After the devastating earthquake of 1923, the city of Tokyo modernized  as it rebuilt, and a new generation of young men and women adopted aspects of western sophistication in clothing, sports (skiing, golf), and art.   The mixture of influences from Art Nouveau and Art Deco is distinct from the western versions.

To the English-speaking audience, Kobayashi Kaichi (1896-1968) remains something of a  mystery.  Born in Kyoto, he created several sets of prints on popular themes for the Sakuraiya Publishers there during the 1920s.    The romance of youth was a favorite subject. and, although it may seem sentimental to our eyes, to his contemporaries these images expressed the height of westernized sophistication.   Taisho chic was essentially the style of the affluent urban Japanese, usually young and single, enamored of western clothes and movies.

What distinguishes Kobayashi Kaichi's work is its harmonious blend of disparate styles.  At a distance from the centers of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, he was free to use the elements that fit his modern version of traditional Japanese prints.  His perspectives are arbitrary, his colors flat, and his inclusion of detail is governed by aesthetics, not reality.   In the series Evening of Sorrow, this universal personal drama of waiting is enacted against an imagined architectural background that seems to float somewhere between fin-de-siecle Vienna and a Hollywood film set.
Images: Kobayashi Kaichi, images undated, from the Leonard Lauder Collection at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
1.- 4.  from the series Evening Of Sorrow.
5. from the series Lyric Dolls: Sadness of Youth.
6. from the series Blue Birds.

7. Ace of Hearts from the series Youth.

25 April 2011

Helen Hyde And Bertha Jaques

Whenever I look at this photograph of Helen Hyde (1868-1919) I wish I could have known her.  The charm, pluck, determination and artistic sense of this picture turn out to be true to life.

Bertha Jaques was a twenty-five year old printer when she first read about Helen Hyde's work in The International Studio (1898).  “With the confidence of early enthusiasm, I wrote Miss Hyde that I did not believe in adding color to etching and would like to know what she had to say about it.”  Hyde responded, sending along two of her own color etchings, and a friendship was established. The two women met four years later when Hyde visited Jacques at her Chicago home.  In between times Hyde spent three years in Japan, studying and working with Japanese print makers.  She may have been the first American to make woodcuts in Japan.
Hyde’s career began with color etching.  She was born in the small town of Lima, in western New York on April 6, 1868,  but lived most of her childhood at the other end of the States in San Francisco. A wealthy aunt financed Helen’s education at Wellesley College.
Her studies took Hyde to New York, Paris, and Berlin, but what was more unusual was her determination to study in Holland, spurred by affection for Dutch painting.  When Hyde returned to San Francisco she began to illustrate children’s books, Moon Babies and Jingles From Japan, etc..  During the fifteen years that she lived in Japan, Hyde had two homes: a winter home in Toyko and a summer home at Nikko, in the north.
In Japan, Hyde apprenticed herself to Kano Tomonobu, the ninth and last of the respected Kano school of brush painters. She learned the traditional method of drawing bamboo:by dipping one corner of the brush into black ink and the other into gray.  Then to sweep upward with one side of the brush and down with the other and – viola! 
Jaques writes that this training was responsible for the unique look of Hyde’s woodblock prints.  “They are direct, flowing and graceful in line.” Jaques also recognized in Hyde’s characters the charm and lack of grotesquerie that separated her work from the traditional Japanese masters.  Hyde’s prints also have a distinctive palette of apple green, rose pink and a blend of the two that produces an olive shade.
Like other contemporary women artists, notably Mary Cassatt, Hyde often featured mothers and children in her work.  In her correspondence, she referred repeatedly to her works as her "children" in a manner that may strike a modern reader as odd.  As a single woman who worked unapologetically  and traveled widely.   Hyde may have responded to the unease that a successful professional woman aroused.  These days it is the charm of Hyde's work and her unselfconsciousness in cross cultural boundaries that makes for unease.
Sometimes, the images just require a bit of explanation, as in Teasing The Daruma   Daruma was a sage of India who fell into a meditation that lasted nine years, to be awakened by a rat nibbling on his ear . This probably explains why he is usually portrayed with an irritable expression.  Chagrined at being caught sleeping,  the daruma cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground.  A tea bush grew up on the spot, whose leaves kept him awake.  Typically, a Daruma toy is weighted on the bottom so children can knock it over and it will spring back up.

Helen Hyde died in San Francisco on May 13, 1919 and was buried by her two sisters in the Hyde family plot near Oakland “under a blanket of white wisteria and lavender iris, which she loved as all her friends loved her.”   Bertha Jaques' Helen Hyde and Her Work is the work of a printer well  known for her generosity toward other artists.

1. unidentified photographer - c. late 1890s  Helen Hyde, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
2. Helen Hyde - The Return, 1907, Art Institute of Chicago.
3. Helen Hyde - Honorable Mr. Cat, 1903, Art Institute of Chicago.
4. Helen Hyde - The Three Friends of Winter - Plum, Pine, Bamboo, 1913, Art Institute of Chicago.
5.   Helen Hyde - The Bathers, 1905, Art Institute of Chicago.
6. Helen Hyde - Teasing The Daruma, 1905, Art Institute of Chicago.
7. Helen Hyde - The family Umbrella, 1914, Art Institute of Chicago.
8. Helen Hyde - The Red Umbrella, 1918, Art Institute of Chicago.
9. Helen Hyde - New Brooms, 1910, Art Institute of Chicago.
10.Helen Hyde -  The Greeting, 1910, Art Institute of Chicago.

To read more about Helen Hyde: HELEN HYDE AND HER WORK: AN APPRECIATION by Bertha Jaques
Chicago, The Libby Company: 1922

You can also read about Helen Hyde at Helen Hyde: A Student of Felix Regamey, posted here  14 August 2009 and ALlittle Redhead  posted here 4 February 2009.
To read more here about Bertha Jaques, see Bertha Jaques: Chicago Printer posted here 26 July 2008.