HARRY HUMPHREY MOORE (1844–1926)
Japanese Girl Promenading, 1881
Oil on wood panel, 10 7/8 x 6 1/4 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): H. Humphrey Moore. 81; (on paper label, on the back): No. 41 / Japanese Girl Promenading
EX COLL.: the artist, until 1926; to his wife, Maria Moore, 1926; to private collection, Connecticut, about 1950, until the present
Moore, who was in Japan during 1880–81, became one of the first American artists to travel to the “Land of the Rising Sun,” preceded only by the illustrator, William Heime, who went there in 1851 in conjunction with the Japanese expedition of Commodore Matthew C. Perry; Edward Kern, a topographical artist and explorer who mapped the Japanese coast in 1855; and the Boston landscapist, Winckleworth Allan Gay, a resident of Japan from 1877 to 1880. More specifically, as William H. Gerdts has pointed out, Moore was the “first American painter to seriously address the appearance and mores of the Japanese people” (William H. Gerdts, American Artists in Japan, 1859–1925, exhib. cat. [New York: Hollis Taggart Galleries, 1996], p. 5).
During his sojourn in Japan, Moore spent time in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Nikko, and Osaka, carefully observing the local citizenry, their manners and mode of dress, and the country’s distinctive architecture. Working on easily portable panels, he created about sixty scenes of daily life, among them this sparkling portrayal of a young woman dressed in a traditional kimono and carrying a baby on her back, a paper parasol protecting them from the summer sunshine. That Moore chose to record this subject is not surprising, for, as one American visitor observed, in Japan “you hardly see a woman without a baby tied on her back ... fastened ... by a long strip of cloth wound several times around them and then brought around the waist of the person carrying the child and tied in front. These babies are dressed in kimonos, just like their elders.... They are odd little bundles of humanity ... and quite captivating” (Celeste J. Miller, The Newest Way Round the World [New York: Calkins and Co., 1908), p. 258–59). The writer went on, stating that “All babies have their heads shaved,” as is the case with the infant portrayed in this delightful vignette. Moore’s scenes of daily life in Japan have been described as being characterized by “strong and vivid color,” and Japanese Girl Promenading is no exception.
Moore’s involvement with Japanese imagery emerged at a time when japonisme––a term first used in France in 1872 in reference to the impact of Japanese art, culture, and fashion on Western art––was becoming increasingly fashionable in European and American art circles. Robert Blum, Theodore Wores, and John La Farge were among the American artists who followed in Moore’s footsteps by traveling and painting in Japan. During the late-19th century, other American painters investigated Japanese themes too, but the majority did so within the confines of their studios, working from photographs or using imported artifacts and Caucasian models––which made Moore’s panel paintings, done in situ, all the more exceptional. In fact, treasuring them as souvenirs of his visit and realizing that they represented a way of life that was slowly disappearing, he refused to sell the series to the influential Paris art dealer, Goupil & Cie. Moore is also said to have turned down an offer of $1,000,000 from the financier, J. P. Morgan, although he ultimately agreed to relinquish three of his Japanese panels, selling one to the London art dealer, Sir William Agnew, and two to the prominent American expatriate art collector, William H. Stewart. Moore kept the remainder for himself, installing them in his Paris studio.