The Distinctive Works of Bertha Lum

We have previously shared some of the fantastic Japanese woodblock prints that grace our collections. They are both elegant and delicate, as well as inspirational. We don’t need to go far to see how Japanese printmaking inspired the work of one particular American artist who studied the technique and developed a unique style of her own.

Iowa-born artist Bertha Lum created colorful works in a style called Japonisme—a term first coined by French art critic and collector Phillipe Burty in 1872 that is used to describe the influence of Japanese design on Western art and artists. Lum devoured art journals and developed an intense curiosity for the processes. Throughout her thirties, she acquired printmaking tools and skills during trips to Japan where she studied and worked with woodblock artists Igami Bonkotsu and Nishimura Kamakichi. The influence of her further travels in China can also be seen in her work. She is known especially for her ability to blend two worlds, east and west, in her art form.

The image below is enchanting and haunting, as the lanterns appear to almost float through the fog in a procession.

The Procession. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49373

The Procession. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49373

Scenes of birds soaring in the skies demonstrate her range. The below image on the left is less detailed but extremely vibrant and rich with color, while the image on the right displays impeccable precision and skill with Japanese woodcut techniques.

Ducks flying over bridge. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1905. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49377

Ducks flying over bridge. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1905. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49377

The Land of the Bluebird. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.09572

The Land of the Bluebird. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.09572

There is something about the way she inserts color that is so astounding to me, such as below, where the blues and yellows pop in just the right places. The below snowy image so beautifully conveys a trek through a whitened bamboo road, and the viewer can almost feel the chill and hear the crunch of the snow.

Bamboo Road. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1913. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49385

Bamboo Road. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1913. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49385

 

Fox Woman. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49371

Fox Woman. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49371

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One Comment

  1. Zal
    October 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    This is quite amazing!
    I’ve seen these beautiful woodcuts, but thought they’re made by a Japanese artist.
    Thank you!

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