Printmaker and painter Fujio Yoshida was born on October 5, 1887, in Tokyo, Japan. A descendent of the family of noted woodcut artists, Fujio would become the first female member of the Yoshida family to learn the art of color woodcut, training in the workshop of her father Kasaburo Yoshida. She would also studied at Fudosha, a renowned private school focused on Western styles (yo-ga).
Fujio was one of four girls born to Kasaburo and Rui Yoshida, and she was introduced to Western-style art theory from an early age. Among the mediums she trained in were oil and watercolor paints as well as color woodcuts in the ukioyo-e style. As there was no allowance for female inheritance of businesses at the time, Kasaburo, fearing that he and Rui would never have a son, had to find a male intern to take over the family’s printshop. He chose his most talented student, Hiroshi Ueda, for the job. Hiroshi would become so favored by Kasaburo that he was eventually adopted into the family, taking on the Yoshida surname.
After Kasaburo’s death, Hiroshi, recognizing Fujio’s talent, encouraged her to enroll in courses in the leading studios of Tokyo, and in 1903, the two artists traveled to the United States to exhibit throughout the East Coast. Fujio was just sixteen and she was welcomed by Western artists as a phenomenon, finding nearly as much financial success as her adopted brother. Fujio would return to the U.S. several times prior to the Second World War, to much acclaim, later garnering comparisons to leading American artists of the mid century.
The Yoshidas stayed in the U.S. until 1905 when they returned to Japan via an around-the-world trip. In 1907, they were married. Fujio began exhibiting in Bunten exhibitions at the Japanese Academy of Art, earning an honorable mention for her watercolor “Spirit Grove” in 1910. She established a reputation as a serious artist with international recognition and in the late 1920s helped to form the Shuyokai (Vermillion Leaf Society), a coalition of Japanese women artists. At this time, her work began to take on a personal style that clearly marked her emergance from the shadow of her family and husband’s own legacies.
The Yoshidas would have three children: a daughter who died at birth in 1910, which led to a ten year halt to Fujio’s art; and two sons who would go on to become famous artists in their own right: Toshi and Hodaka. The careers of her sons would have a profound effect on Fujio’s later career, particularly Hodaka’s, whose interest in Abstraction inspired Fujio to pursue the genre in the late 1940s. Through the 1930s and into the 1940s, much of Fujio’s work remained somewhat conservative in style and subject matter, perhaps owning to the political climate of the time. However, following the end of the war she began to focus on oil painting and her work took on a new dimension of bold, bright compositions that often featured intimate close-ups of flowers, drawing comparisons to Western artist Georgia O’Keeffe (since disregarded by Fujio’s estate).
After the death of Hiroshi in 1950, Fujio immersed herself in the exploration of abstracted depictions of flowers native to the islands of Japan. Among her most celebrated works are the color woodcuts “Ginger” (1953), and “Yellow Iris” (1954), works which heralded her return to the medium after a nearly three decade hiatus. In 1978 she published her biography, Shuyo no ki (Vermillion Leaf Record), and two years later, now in her 90s, held her first solo exhibition.
Fujio died in Tokyo, Japan, on May 1, 1987, a few days shy of her 100th birthday. A major retrospective of her work was held at the Fuchu Art Museum near Tokyo in 2002; that same year, the Minnepolis Institute of Arts mounted a show of Yoshida family art with a section dedicated to Fujio. Her work can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Minneapolis Institute of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum; and the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.