Fujio Yoshida

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Fujio Yoshida 吉田ふじを (1887-1987) was a Japanese watercolorist, oil painter and printmaker. The matriarch of four generations of Yoshida family artists, Fujio Yoshida, was the wife of Hiroshi Yoshida (1876–1950), mother of Toshi Yoshida (1911–1995) and Hodaka Yoshida (1926–1995), mother-in-law of Chizuko Yoshida and grandmother to Ayomi Yoshida (b. 1958). She was one of few professional female painters during the early 20th c. from Japan that gained international recognition prior to the second World War.

Fujio was the daughter of painter Kasaburo Yoshida (1861–1894), a pioneer of Western style painting (yōga). She began painting at a young age with the support of her father as well as her adopted brother, Hiroshi Yoshida. Fujio was enrolled at Fudōsha, a private school of Western Painting in Tokyo in 1899, where she trained in oil painting and watercolor. She was among the first generation of academically trained female artists in the Western techniques and style during a period in which there was a greater preference for Japanese-style painting (nihonga).  From 1903 to 1907, Fujio and Hiroshi traveled together throughout the United States, Europe and Africa, painting works inspired by their sojourn. While in the United States, the artists held an exhibition together at the Rhode Island School of Design, February 17-28, 1905. The couple married upon their return to Japan in 1907.

Fujio received wide acclaim on subsequent trips to the United States in 1907 and 1923-25. Beloved by American collectors for her realistic watercolors of domestic scenes and landscapes, she was praised for her ability to depict elements of “traditional” Japanese culture with Western aesthetic. She is well-known today for her soft, ethereal style and mastery of natural light.

In Japan, Fujio was accepted and received honors at the 1910 national juried exhibition in Japan (Bunten), modeled after the French Salon. She also exhibited with the Pacific Art Society (Taiheiyō-Gakai), a group established to promote Western-style painting with a particular emphasis on watercolor. Fujio most frequently exhibited with the Red Leaf Society (Shuyōkai), a newly-established association for women painters working in Western-style. She took a decade hiatus from artmaking beginning in 1911 after her firstborn child passed away and her second child Toshi was diagnosed with polio. When she resumed working in the 1920s, she developed a penchant for flower motifs and still lifes. While watercolor remained her primary medium until the end of the second World War, Fujio continued to work in oil and briefly experimented with engraving.

From the 1950s onward, Fujio created abstracted prints and oil paintings of flowers indigenous to the Japanese islands. The vibrant color and sinuous lines of her floral compositions are vivacious and sensual. With a career that spanned nearly the entire 20th century, Yoshida’s memoir, The Red Leaf Record (1978), is a valuable record of the experiences of the first generation of professional female artists in Japan.

Yoshida’s work has been exhibited in the United States and Japan, including a retrospective at the Fuchu Art Museum, Tokyo (2002) and group shows on the Yoshida family artists at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (2015), Art Institute of Chicago (2013), and Minneapolis Institute of Art (2002). Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.