Artist Trivia: Yasuo Kuniyoshi

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Fishing Scene, Maine, 1922, Watercolor and graphite on paper, Museum Purchase, 1996.3

Who is this artist?

This artist was born in Okayama, Japan and emigrated to the United States in 1906 at the age of 16 to escape military service. They began studying at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, encouraged by their high school teacher. They later studied with Robert Henri in New York City. By 1917, this artist caught the attention of Hamilton Easter Field, an artist, art critic and patron. It was Field who first introduced this artist to Maine, providing a summer studio in the art colony in Ogunquit, Maine.  This painter was commissioned to paint murals in the women’s restrooms of Radio City Music Hall in 1931.

We celebrate this artist on September 1st on what would have been their 133rd birthday

Who is Yasuo Kuniyoshi?

Yasuo Kuniyoshi was introduced to Maine through the summers he spent in the artists’ colony in Ogunquit. He said of Maine’s landscape, ‘ That severe landscape and simple New England buildings were my God.’ Kuniyoshi began exhibiting his artwork throughout the 1920’s. Despite financial struggles, he began to emerge as an esteemed Modernist. In 1929, his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s show, Nineteen Living Americans.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II, Kuniyoshi was classified by the United States government as an enemy alien. This classification then prohibited him from owning a camera or binoculars. Kuniyoshi also had his bank account frozen and he was subject to a curfew and travel prohibitions. 

Fortunately, just a few years later in 1948, Kuniyoshi was honored as the first living artist in the United States to receive a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art.  In 1952 he was elected to represent the United States at the 26th Venice Biennal along with Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis and Edward Hopper. Later that same year, he completed his application to become a US citizen, but sadly died of cancer before it was approved.

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