Visions of the Orient : Western Women Artists in Asia 1900–1940

Beginning next Friday, Visions of the Orient : Western Women Artists in Asia 1900–1940 will be on view at NMWA! Featuring 125 prints and paintings by female Western artists exploring Asian cultures between 1900 and 1940, the exhibition will focus on the work of four artists: Helen Hyde (1868–1919), Elizabeth Keith (1887–1956), Bertha Lum (1869–1954), and Lilian Miller (1895–1942). The exhibition will be on view at NMWA from October 28, 2011, through January 15, 2012.

Lilian Miller, Pagoda of the Dragon Star, Kyoto, 1931

Lilian Miller, Pagoda of the Dragon Star, Kyoto, 1931; Woodblock print on paper; Pacific Asia Museum Collection; Museum purchase with Collectors’ Circle funds

The four women artists featured in Visions lived in Japan following the country’s 1853 “opening” to the West for trade. During this period, people in America and Europe gradually turned their eyes to Japanese culture and eagerly sought its imagery, which fascinated because of its novelty and exoticism.

Helen Hyde, Baby Talk, 1905

Helen Hyde, Baby Talk, 1905; Watercolor; Murray Warner Collection of Oriental Art, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon

The careers and artwork of these four women can be understood through Orientalism, Westerners’ skewed perception of Asian cultures based on the unequal power dynamic between the two regions that developed during this time period. The exhibition draws on, but also questions, some of the assumptions about Orientalism developed by scholars over the past twenty years.

The work of each artist reflects her personal interpretation of Asia, as well as the narrative that she hoped would appeal to Western audiences:

Elizabeth Keith, Manila Cathedral, 1924

Elizabeth Keith, Manila Cathedral, 1924; Color etching; Pacific Asia Museum Collection; Gift of Harry and Virginia Evans

  • Helen Hyde’s pictures, set in gardens or in cozy interiors, feature women and children and often include symbols of nature and domestic comfort.
  • Elizabeth Keith interpreted Asia as a museum: in her paintings, woodblock prints, and colored lithographs, Keith sought to capture the customs and costumes of vanishing Asia that she found during her travels.
  • Bertha Lum depicted Japan as an ethereal place of glowing light, murky forests, and swirling waters, populated by mystical goddesses and Buddhist divinities.
  • Lilian (“Jack”) Miller looked for inspiration in landscapes and old temples: her depiction of the Orient is picturesque and pure, with gentle mountains, deep forests, and moonlit nights.

    Bertha Lum, Tanabata, 1912

    Bertha Lum, Tanabata, 1912; Woodblock print on paper; Pacific Asia Museum Collection; Gift of Evelyn E. Olson

These artists have each been studied individually, but this exhibition is the first to examine them as a group. Come to NMWA to see these four women’s art in Visions of the Orient, which will be on view October 28–January 15.

Visions of the Orient is organized by the Pacific Asia Museum with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. The presentation of Vision of the Orient at NMWA is generously supported by its members.

0 thoughts on “Visions of the Orient : Western Women Artists in Asia 1900–1940

  1. I wish I lived closer to you so I could have seen this exhibit. My favorite artists! Was there a catalogue for the exhibit? If yes, I am interested in purchasing it. Thank you.