Sake Cup (Sakazuki)

Tamako Kataoka 片岡球子 Japanese

Not on view

The woman artist Kataoka Tamako achieved great popularity and critical acclaim for her brash and colorful paintings and lithographs—especially exuberant compositions showing a bright red Mount Fuji—from the 1950s until her death in 2008. Although Sake Cup (Sakazuki) is a relatively early work in her oeuvre and a rare example of her portraying a contemporary woman, it already reveals Tamako’s forceful artistic personality and foretells her mature style. While the traditional coiffure, white skin, and gorgeous kimono of the geisha of this painting are all attributes of classical beauty associated with Nihonga depictions of modern women, the artist has pivoted away from the conventional representation of feminine beauty by resorting to a bold composition, brusquely brushed outlines, and vibrant color. Most conspicuously, the woman’s hand holding the sake cup is rendered disproportionately large and has a robustness that draws our attention, if only in contrast to the delicate manner in which women’s hands are usually rendered in Nihonga—reminding us perhaps of the way Käthe Kollwitz or Kainoshō Tadaoto have depicted women’s hands. The blue-and-yellow sake cup she holds echoes the colors of her kimono, and functions as the visual fulcrum of this bold composition, which is divided diagonally with most of the subject matter in the lower right half of the picture.

Born in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Kataoka Tamako pursued a career in a field where the odds were against a woman succeeding; she pursued her study of Nihonga from an early age while simultaneously working for thirty years as an elementary school teacher. After being rejected by the (male) juried Teiten exhibitions, noted for their conservatism, her work was first accepted at the Japanese Art Institute’s Inten exhibition of 1930. In the decades that followed, the Institute became the center of her artistic growth under the guidance of noted Nihonga artists Yasuda Yukihiko (1884–1978) and Kobayashi Kokei (1883–1957). In 1952, Tamako joined the Institute as its member and began teaching at the Women’s Special School of Art, her alma mater. But she rebelled against the conventions of Nihonga, and in the 1960s created dynamic explorations of landscapes inspired by famous volcanoes, including Mount Fuji, and Visages (Tsuragamae), a portrait series of historical personages ranging from the Muromachi Shogun Ashikaga Takauji to the Ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai. For the landscape and figure paintings of her mature period, she received great critical recognition culminating with the Order of Cultural Merit in 1989.

Sake Cup (Sakazuki), Tamako Kataoka 片岡球子 (Japanese, 1905–2008), Framed panel; ink, color, gold paint, gold and silver leaf on silk, Japan

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