Helen Hyde
Nationality: 
american
Gender: 
Female
Birth Date: 
1868
Birth Place: 
Lima NY
Death Date: 
1919
Death Place: 
Pasadena CA
An American artist who lived and worked in Japan for half of her adult life, Helen Hyde is best known for her color woodblock prints and color etchings, particularly those of Japanese women and children. The daughter of native Californians, she was born in Lima, N.Y., the home of her mother’s parents. When she was two years old the family returned to California, settling in Oakland. Hyde’s artistic education began at the age of twelve when she studied drawing with Ferdinand Richardt (1819-1895), a Danish painter who had immigrated to San Francisco. After her father’s death in 1882, Hyde moved with her mother and two sisters to the house of Augusta Hyde Bixler (1838-1921), her father’s wealthy sister. The following year Hyde and her mother moved to Philadelphia, where her mother taught school and Hyde attended the Wellesley School for Girls. After graduation in 1886 Hyde returned to San Francisco to live with her aunt and study at the San Francisco School of Design under Emil Carlsen (1853-1932). With continuing financial support from Mrs. Bixler, from 1888 until 1894 Hyde studied with a succession of instructors, first for a year at the Art Students League in New York City, then a year in Berlin under the painter Franz Skarbina (1849-1910), followed by three years in Paris under Raphael Collin (1850-1919), Albert Sterner (1863-1946) and Félix Régamey (1844-1907). Régamey was an enthusiast for Japanese art and introduced Hyde to Japanese art and culture. After Hyde returned to San Francisco in 1894, she entered works in that year’s California Midwinter International Exposition and the exhibition of the San Francisco Sketch Club, a club for women artists. Through the Sketch Club she met the artist Josephine Hyde (b. 1862), who convinced her to take up etching. Hyde installed an etching press in the home of her aunt, and produced her first color etching in 1896. Inspired by San Francisco’s Chinatown, over a four-year period Hyde created 21 color etchings of women and children of Chinatown, which she sold very successfully through the San Francisco art dealer William Kingston Vickery (1851-1925) and later through William Macbeth (1851-1917) in New York and others in London and elsewhere, along with her oils and watercolors. Hyde and her friend Josephine Hyde went to Tokyo in 1899, with Helen’s etching press as part of their baggage. Both Helen and Josephine began taking lessons in Japanese brush painting that year; Helen studied with the painter Tomonobu (1843-1912) for about eighteen months. One of her brush paintings, entered in a 1901 Tokyo art exhibition at Tomonobu’s urging, won first prize. Probably encouraged by the scholar Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), a Boston scholar then in Japan, she created her first color woodblock print in 1900, done in the traditional Japanese manner. Hyde prepared the drawing for “A Japanese Madonna” (1900, Mason 30), and engaged Japanese craftsmen to cut the woodblocks and print the impressions. She was not happy with the results, and determined to learn the process herself. Instructed by Emil Orlik (1870-1932), an Austrian working in Tokyo, she learned to cut and print woodblocks. She returned to San Francisco in late 1901 and went on to Boston and New York to visit her dealers. Hyde returned to Japan in 1902, where she stayed until 1910, punctuated by a trip to America to arrange for exhibitions and visits to China and India. She engaged master printer Shojiro Murata and expert block cutters to work for her. Some of her best-known woodcuts were produced during this stay in Japan. Solo exhibitions of her work were mounted in a New York gallery in 1906 and a Boston gallery in 1908. In 1909 her woodcut “Baby Talk” (1908, Mason 76) won a gold medal at Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon–Pacific Exhibition, and when shown in the 1911 Paris Salon garnered her membership in the French Société de la Gravure Originale en Couleur. She returned to San Francisco in 1910 where she underwent her first operation for cancer. In late 1911 she went to Mexico for several months. Captivated by the quality of light and scenes of Mexican life, she gathered material that provided ideas for a number of prints. Back in Tokyo in 1912, she created some forty prints until ill-health forced her to return to San Francisco in 1914. After her return she made no more woodblock prints, but continued to create etchings and watercolors. Hyde exhibited 41 color prints in San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, was given a major exhibition of prints and watercolors at San Francisco’s Hill Tolerton Galleries in March 1915, exhibited at the Post-Exposition Exhibition in the Palace of Fine Arts and had a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, both in 1916. Her health deteriorated over the next few years and after joining her sister Mabel’s family in Pasadena in 1919, she died there from cancer in May, 1919. (TNB 10/2015) Selected bibliography: Mason, Tim and Lynn Mason. Helen Hyde. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. Meech, Julia and Gabriel P. Weisberg, eds. Japonisme Comes to America: The Japanese Impact on the Graphic Arts, 1876-1925. Exhibition catalog, pp. 101-125 and passim. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1990