Monday, May 16, 2016

The Japonisme Prints of Bertha Lum

Bertha Boynton Bull Lum (1869 – 1954) was born in Tipton, Iowa. She studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago. Around this time there were several exhibitions which popularized Japanese art and culture in America, including the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. She became enamored of the Japonisme movement and wanted to go visit Japan to study art.

In 1903, she married and honeymooned in Japan. She returned to the US and made several woodblock prints which clearly show the influence of both French impressionism and ukiyo-e. Lum made subsequent trips to Japan in 1907 and 1911, primarily to learn more about Japanese printmaking. She was able to study carving in the workshop of Bonkotsu Igami.
Later on she decided to hire carvers and printers to work under her since she came to realize that the Japanese system of collaborative printmaking was more efficient for her purposes. Her prints were featured in the 1912 Tenth Annual Art Exhibit in Ueno Park where she was the only Western artist included. Lum soon exhibited her work in Chicago and New York.
She moved to Peking, China in 1922, but returned to the United States in 1924 to live in California. She published two books, Gods, Goblins and Ghosts in 1922 and Gangplanks to the East in 1936. She left California in 1927, then returned to Peking in 1933. She continued to show her work in the United States and China until 1950. In 1953 she moved to Genoa, Italy, where died in 1954.

Lum's prints combine flowing, curvillinear Art-Nouveau lines with flat colorful sections that harken back to 19th century ukiyo-e. The subject of her work ranges from children to landscapes to mysterious figures from Asian folklore and legend. Lum envisioned Asia as an exotic, magical place full of lantern light, swirling smoke, and smiling women.
Stylistically, Lum's work is delicately printed with colorful light and shadowy clouds. Her figures fade into the atmosphere, giving the compositions a dramatic depth. Her work became influenced by the author Lafcadio Hearn, who translated Japanese legends and fairy tales into popular Western books. Ultimately, Lum’s work made a significant contribution to the Japonisme movement with her prints and paintings.
Silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Her work received honors in Rome, Paris and Portugal

Asiatic Society of Japan
California Society of Etchers (now the California Society of Printmakers)
Print Makers Society of California

Portrait of Bertha Lum.

1 comment:

  1. I have just learned of Bertha Lum and find many of prints to be wonderful. I was wondering where I might be able to see them in person. Would you know?

    Thank you,
    Jared Jacobs