October 2010 Archives

Elizabeth Keith (1887-1956)

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Scrap.shsElizabeth Keith: Along with Helen Hyde, Bertha Lum and Paul Jacoulet, Elizabeth Keith ranks as a foremost Western artist associated with the famous Japanese Shin Hanga movement of the early twentieth century color woodcut. Elizabeth Keith was born in Scotland but spent most of her youth in London. She received no formal training in the arts and did not begin devoting her energies to painting and printmaking until an eventful 1915 trip to Japan to visit her sister and brother-in-law. She immediately fell in love with the country and sold her return ticket home. For the following nine years, Elizabeth Keith lived in Japan and traveled extensively in Korea, China and the Philippines.

Elizabeth Keith was born in Scotland and raised in London. We have no record of her having formal training in the arts. In 1915 she joined her sister in Japan and stayed for nine years. It was a fruitful period for Keith as she sketched in pencil and watercolors during her travels in Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines.

In 1919 an exhibition in Tokyo of her watercolors on Korean subjects caught the attention of the central figure of the shin hanga movement, the publisher Watanabe, who soon had his studio craftsmen translate her 'East Gate, Seoul, by Moonlight' into a color woodblock print (see figure at right). It would become one of her most sought-after and admired images.

Watanabe continued to publish her prints until 1939. She returned to England in 1924, but continued to travel throughout her life, producing studies for prints that would number at least 113 designs (100 were color woodblock prints, the remainder color etchings). Her published prints are consistently professional and always well printed. At her best she combined anecdotal and documentary elements with a highly developed sense of color, compassion for her subjects, and a keen eye for detail.

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