This post is somewhat tangential to this blog, but there is little time left to visit Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Kuniyoshi (1889-1953) (国吉 康雄) was born in Okayama (Japan) and came to study English in America while he was still a teenager. He became interested in arts and settled in America where he became a painter. He went back to Japan only for a few family reunions, but he did not enjoy the atmosphere and was criticized for “not being Japanese anymore”. In America he was a victim of the racist policies of the day; his first wife, Katherine Schmidt, was stripped of her American citizenship when she married him in 1919.
In 1925 and 1928, Schmidt and Kuniyoshi visited and studied in Paris, where they had some artistic connections, like Pascin.
Kuniyoshi started getting interested in the circus and its atmosphere. The theme was inspirational to him many years after he left Paris (see, for instance, Somebody tore my poster , Disturbing Dream , Fish Kite [or Koinobori, 1950, used for the poster of the 2015 exhibition above]).
Here are two of his most famous or infamous paintings related to circus:
This last portrait became a topic of discussion after it was selected for a national American exhibition of modern art and President Truman declared (see Barnhisel for more information):
“If this is art, I’m a Hottentot”
I have not found any representation of Japanese circus artists by Kuniyoshi, but it is not a surprise. His interest for the milieu was for its general atmosphere, like Picasso, or, many years later, Botero.
- Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kuniyoshi in the Archives of American Art
- Greg Barnhisel, Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy (2015), p. 55 sq.
Gail Levin, Between Two Worlds: Folk Culture, Identity, and the American Art of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Archives of American Art Journal Vol. 43, No. 3/4 (2003) , pp. 2-17 (Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1557800)
- more images and information on the French version of this note