Helen Hyde (1868-1919)

Helen Hyde was the quintessential Californian. Her Father was an engineer, political lobbyist and railroad builder. Helen's childhood was comfortable and cultured. When she started studying it was drawing not painting due to the insistence of her draftsman Father. After graduating from Wellsley, she spent the next 10 years traveling and studying art. When she arrived in Paris in 1891, Japonisme was at its height. Mary Cassat and Monet were both working with flattened images. Arriving back in San Francisco, Hyde became interested in etching becoming skilled in hand-coloring. She produced 21 etchings of Chinatown women and children that established her reputation as a serious artist.

At 31, she sailed to Japan with her sister, Josephine also an artist. Settling in Nikko, she studied the japanese language and traditional brush painting. Soon she moved to woodblocks and realizing she needed to control the work, also learned cutting and printing. Before returning to California in 1901, she completed 12 woodcuts and 4 etchings, each of which produced 100-250 impressions. She returned to Japan in 1902 having traveled across the US showing her work and making important connections.

The next 8 years in Japan were devoted to producing woodcuts although she did visit China and India. Her subjects, always domestic, were rendered in an increasingly curvilinear line. Sales of her prints through US dealers were strong, and she was scrupulous about limiting her editions to 200-250 impressions. She returned to California in 1906 but she now embraced the full ethos of Japan; she wore kimonos at home and costumed models likewise.

Recuperating from a cancer operation, Hyde visited Mexico and her style changed. Decorative patterning is restricted to a few areas, and tonality seems 'pervaded by a gentle haze" that harmonizes colors. Hyde visited Japan for the last time during 1912-1914. This time she traveled widely including a final China trip. Hyde settled in Chicago near her sister because of her ill heath. She never again produced woodcuts. She did see her work shown at major print shows and in the summers she visited the artists' colony at Provincetown where woodcuts were increasingly popular. She died in 1919.Helen Hyde was the quintessential Californian. Her Father was an engineer.

Abstracted from Helen Hyde, Tim Mason and Lynn Mason, Smithsonian Institutional Press, 1991


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