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Three Centuries of Japanese Women Artists

Three Centuries of Japanese Women Artists


Triumphing over Real Odds
Patricia Fister is curator of Oriental Art at the Spencer Museum of Art and assistant professor of art history at the University of Kansas.

A unique combination of political, social, and economic factors in Japan led to the flourishing of women artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, despite the fact that women's position in Japan's patriarchal society was theoretically very low. Women artists came from diverse segments of society, worked in many schools and traditions, and created artworks displaying a wide range of styles. They earned the plaudits of their peers and were important figures in both literary and artistic circles.

The reasons for the increase of women artists during the Edo period (1600-1868) are manifold. After nearly a century of civil war, Japan was enjoying an age of peace and prosperity. As affluence spread to the middle and lower classes new patrons and new schools of art developed. Women's participation in art and literature was also abetted by the spread of education; the growth of private and clan schools stimulated learning and literacy among all classes. Women who were educated were more likely than others to move beyond the socially approved roles of wife and mother.

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