Discover Great Japanese Women Artists Vol.01: Kamei Shōkin
There is a growing awareness of gender equality, leading to a reevaluation of the works and achievements of women artists in art history. Numerous books have been published focusing on women artists, and their works are actively disseminated through exhibitions, publications, podcasts, and other media. It would be fantastic if such movements could further expand in Japan. In fact, during the Edo period, a considerable number of women specialized in learning and pursuing careers as professional painters. In this series of columns, I will introduce some of them.
Kamei Shōkin was born in Fukuoka in 1798, during the late Edo period. Her grandfather, Kamei Nanmei, was a renowned scholar and doctor who excelled in Confucianism and served in the Fukuoka domain. Her father, Shōyō, was also a distinguished Confucian scholar.
From a young age, Shōkin studied Chinese classics, philosophy, and poetry at her father’s school, where she showcased her talents in Chinese poetry, calligraphy, and ink painting. At the tender age of 9, she participated in an exhibition organized by the feudal lord of the Akizuki domain at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. She submitted her calligraphy work and received a kimono obi fabric as a gift from the feudal lord.
When she was 21 years old, the renowned Confucian scholar and poet Rai San’yō visited the Kamei household. He saw her ink painting of bamboo and composed a written tribute (gasan) for it.
Shōkin, who had a deep understanding of Chinese culture, primarily practiced the art of “Nanga” or “Southern-style painting.” Nanga refers to a style of painting that emerged during the mid-Edo period and was heavily influenced by the Southern School of Chinese painting. It gained support among knowledgeable individuals well-versed in Chinese poetry and literature.
Shōkin frequently depicted the “Four Gentlemen” in her artworks. The “Four Gentlemen” refer to bamboo, orchid, chrysanthemum, and plum, collectively representing noble virtues. These subjects became popular during the Song and Yuan dynasties in China and were widely portrayed in Japanese art as well.
In her personal life, at 18, she married Mitoma Fuku, a wealthy farmer and beloved disciple of her father. Mitoma studied both Confucianism and medicine, eventually inheriting the family profession of medicine. The couple had a daughter who passed away at a young age, and later they adopted their nephew.
Shōkin authored several works, including a collection of poetry drafts titled “Yōchōkōitsugai” written when she was 18 and the “Shusha Diary” written around the age of 34 while her husband was on a long business trip as a doctor.
In 1857, at the age of 60, Shōkin passed away due to illness.
Please see an image of her artwork in my illustrated article in Japanese from the link below.
【企画展】わたしが描く－コレクションでたどる女性画家たち 会場：早稲田大学會津八一記念博物館 2階 グランド ギャラリー 会期：2023年5月15日（月）～ 7月6日（木） アクセス：東京メトロ東西線「早稲
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