Uemura Shōen (1875-1949) painted bijinga, paintings of beautiful women, throughout her life. To commemorate a decade since the Yamatane Museum of Art opened in Hiroo, we present a special exhibition of the entire group of Shōen’s paintings in our collection. Our museum’s founder and first director, Yamazaki Taneji (1893-1983) was on friendly terms with Shōen and collected her works. These eighteen works, including the masterpieces Firefly, Scene from the Noh Play Kinuta, and Feathered Snow, comprise what is regarded as the foremost of Shōen collections.
Born and raised in Kyoto, Shōen attended the Kyoto Prefectural Art School, where she was taught by Suzuki Shōnen, then studied with Kōno Bairei and Takeuchi Seihō, working to master painting techniques. She quickly distinguished herself and showed her paintings of women with themes taken from Edo- and Meiji-period manners and customs and the Chinese and Japanese classics in many exhibitions, including the Bunten (Ministry of Education Exhibition) and Teiten (Imperial Art Exhibition). Highly regarded for her bijinga, she became, in 1948, the first woman to be awarded the Order of Culture. Shōen, who wrote, “My earnest hope is that all my works are like fragrant jewels, always with a sense of fresh purity, never with even an iota of the vulgar,” continued to create the elegant bijinga beloved by many today.
This exhibition also introduces nihonga by Kaburaki Kiyokata, her contemporary and peer: “Shōen in the west, Kiyokata in the east,” as the saying goes. It also includes bijinga by his pupil Itō Shinsui and a bevy of paintings of women by nihonga artists such as Murakami Kagaku, Ogura Yuki, and Hashimoto Meiji. While appreciating the images of women by many modern and contemporary artists along with Shōen’s bijinga, please enjoy experiencing the richness of the bijinga world, its breadth, and stylistic developments.