Discover Great Japanese Female Artists Vol.02: Katsushika Ōi
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.
Katsushika Ōi was born in the 1790s to the early 1800s and is believed to have passed away between 1857 and 1868.
Her father, Hokusai, was a reknowned ukiyo-e painter. He married twice, and Ōi was the third daughter among his five children. She was the only one who became an artist.
Ōi married an artist named Minamisawa Tōmei, but it is said that she laughed at his inferior painting skills. Their marriage did not go well, ultimately resulting in an early divorce. Following the separation, she began assisting her father in his artistic pursuits.
The kanji character “為” (i) in Ōi’s name was derived from the artistic name “為一” (I-itsu) that Hokusai used at that time. It is also said that the name came from their routine, where either Ōi or Hokusai would call the other, saying “おーい” (ōi), which means “Hello” or “Hey.”
Similar to her father, Ōi was an eccentric person who did not fuss over trivial matters. She was indifferent to her clothing and meals, disliked cleaning, and her room was often messy. Despite this, her hair was always neatly arranged.
Ōi and Hokusai got along well, and she constantly assisted her father.
Some works bearing Hokusai’s signature are believed to have been drawn or partially assisted by Ōi. This could be attributed to the fact that works with her father’s name sold for higher prices, given his popularity.
There are only a dozen or so surviving works attributed to Ōi, a remarkably small number. Under different circumstances, she might have been able to assume a more prominent role in the art scene.
Hokusai is said to have highly praised Ōi, stating that she surpassed him in depicting beautiful women.
Please see an image of her artwork in my illustrated article in Japanese from the link below.
葛飾応為『吉原格子先之図』―肉筆画の魅力 会場：太田記念美術館（東京都渋谷区神宮前1-10-10） 会期：2023年11月1日（水）～11月26日（日） 休館日：月曜休館 アクセス：ＪＲ山手線原宿駅から徒歩５分、東京メト
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