Uemura Shoen (上村松園)

Shoen UEMURA (real name: Tsune or Tsuneko UEMURA, April 23, 1875, - August 27, 1949), born and raised at Shimogyo, Kyoto Prefecture in the Meiji period, was a Japanese-style painter who drew 'Bijinga' ('Beautiful Woman Painting') from a woman's viewpoint. Her son, Shoko UEMURA, and grandson, Atsushi UEMURA, are Japanese-style painters.

Traditional Manners of Kyoto

The second daughter of the owners of a tea shop in central Kyoto, Shoen grew up surrounded by traditional Kyoto culture and spent her whole life painting women, aiming to produce, in her own words, 'pictures like exquisite jewels, clear and without a trace of vulgarity' and 'authentic 'bijinga' paintings that are the culmination of truth, goodness and beauty.'

Affections for Her Mother

Shoen's father died two months before she was born. Her mother Nakako raised Shoen and her elder sister by herself. Although Meiji society did not approve of women wanting to become artists, Nakako continuously supported Shoen, offering undeerstanding and encouragement. Reminiscing about her mother in her essay "Seibisho," Shoen wrote as follows.

It was because of my mother that I was able to paint, making pictures my life and my crutch, without experiencing life's hardships.'
As well as giving birth to me, my mother gave birth to my art.'

The loss of her mother led her to produce several dignified pieces including 'Mother and Child,' 'Ao-mayu' (Blue Eyebrows), 'Evenfall,' and 'Late Autumn.'


Among her many graceful works, two stand out as unique. They are 'Hana-gatami' (Flower Basket) and 'Hono-o' (Flame). Hana-gatami,' painted in 1915, was based on the yokyoku (song used in Noh) of the same name, which tells the story of 'Teruhi no mae,' a woman loved by Emperor Keitai when he was a prince, who went to Kyoto, met the Emperor by chance at an autumn leaf viewing party and performed a dance holding a flower basket she had received from him as a gift. The work is large, measuring 208 cm x 127 cm.
It was said that Shoen based the face of the mad woman on the noh mask known as 'Masugami.'

Hono-o,' created in 1918 and based on another yokyoku 'Aoi no ue,' is painted in the Momyama style and depicts Rokujo no Miyasudokoro from the "Tale of Genji"; Shoen said it was 'the only work one of my many pictures to depict such a seductive woman.'
Rokujo no Miyasudokoro was a proud noble woman and former lover of Hikaru Genji, who became a vengeful spirit because of her humiliation of and jealousy toward his wife Aoi no ue and haunted her to death. The picture shows her biting a stand of hair and wearing a kimono ith a pattern of spider webs and wisteria flowers. It is a large work, measuring 189 cm x 90 cm, and is a very powerful painting that never fails to impress viewers.


1875: Shoen was born as the second daughter of the owner of Chikiri-ya, a leaf tea store, located at Gokomachi, Shijo Street, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City.

1887: She entered Kyoto Gagakko (Kyoto School of Drawing) and studied under Shonen SUZUKI, who was a member of the Shijo-ha School.

1890: She submitted her work 'Shiki Bijin-zu' (lit. 'Paintings of Beautiful Women in Four Seasons') to the Third National Exposition and won the First Meritorious Award (She drew attention when her work was purchased by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Victoria, Queen of England, who was visiting Japan).

1893: She studied under Bairei KONO. Her house burned down, so she moved to Takakura-Takoyakushi. She started studying Chinese classics under Suiko ICHIMURA.

1895: She started studying under Seiho TAKEUCHI after the death of Bairei.

1902: She gave birth to her first son, Shintaro (Shoko).

1903: She moved to Kurumayacho-Oike.

1914: She set up an atelier in Ainomachi-Takeyamachi. She started learning yokyoku from Iwao KONGO.

1934: Her mother Nakako died.

1941: She became a member of the Imperial Art Academy.

1945: She moved to Reikin-so, a resort villa in Nara-Heijo, to avoid bombing.

1948: She became the first Japanese woman to be awarded the Order of Culture

1949: She died. She was granted Jushii (Junior Fourth Rank). She was 74 years old. Her posthumous Buddhist name from Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) is Jukeiin Shakuni Shoen.

Classic and Historical Works

Sei Shonagon (lifting up a bamboo blind), 1892

Musume Miyuki (based on the joruri (ballad drama), 'Asagao Nikki'), 1914

Hana-gatami (based on the yokyoku, 'Hana-gatami'), 1915

Hono-o (based on the yokyoku, 'Aoi no ue'), 1918

Yokihi (Princess Yang Kwei-fei), 1922

ISE no Taifu (an early Heian period poet), 1930

Soshi-arai Komachi (based on a yokyoku and Iwao KONGO's noh performance), 1937

The basic story is that Komachi was accused of plagiarizing an old poem included in a bound poem book and cleared the suspicion by washing the book to erase the old poem.

Setsugekka (Snow, Moon and Flowers) (Sanpuku-tsui (set of three), drawn at the request of the Empress Dowager), 1937

Kinuta (depicting the graceful wife from the yokyoku 'Kinuta' (a noh drama), painted in the Genroku manner), 1938

Shizuka (Shizuka-gozen), 1944

Musume Niizuma (Daughter and Newly-wed Wife)

Jinsei no hana (Bloom of Life) (depicting the bride and her mother walking to the ceremony), 1899

Mai-jitaku (Preparation for Dance) (a set of two), 1914

Machi−zuki (Waiting for the Moon) and Ryosho no zu (Painting of Comfortable Moonlit Night), 1926

Sudare no kage (Behind the Bamboo Blind) and Niibotaru (New Firefly), 1929

Shunju-zu (Painting of Spring and Autumn) (a set of two: a painting of young girls representing spring and an elderly woman representing autumn), 1930

Jo no mai (a painting of a woman expressing the 'inviolable strong will hidden in women,' who serenely, bravely and gracefully performs a shimai or noh dance in plain clothes 'Jo no mai'), 1936 (Important Cultural Heritage)

The title was later used by novelist Tomiko MIYAO for the title of her biography of Shoen. Miyao's "Jo no mai" was also filmed, and the movie vividly depicts the lives of Shoen as she tries to make her way in the unsympathetic art world of the Meiji period and her supportive mother, Sei (1984, Toei, starring Yuko NATORI).

Ordinary Women and Images of Mother

Boshi (Mother and Child), 1934

Aomayu (Blue Eyebrow), 1934

Seijitsu (Fine Day), 1941 (painting a woman who is starching a kimono garment with her sleeves tucked up)

Yuugure (Evenfall), 1941 (a woman trying to thread a needle in the light of dusk with an open shoji sliding door

Banshu (Late Autumn), 1943 (a woman repairing a shoji screen)

Private Museum

Shohaku Art Museum


1909: "Shoen Bijin Gafu" (picture book of beautiful women painted by Shoen) was published.

1943: "Aomayu-sho," a collection of her essays, was published.

[Original Japanese]