Daily Art Moment: Yasuo Kuniyoshi

A vertical, rectangular painting of a young, light-skinned woman sitting in a chair with an accordion in front of her. The figure and instrument are at center and take up the bottom three quarters of the painting and almost the full width. The figure has dark wispy hair that falls across her forehead. She rests her head on her left hand. Her left elbow rests of the corner of a large accordion. Her right arm and hand lie across the top of the instrument. The accordion obscures the lower torso and legs of the figure. It consists of the bellows depicted in gray, olive green, and black, streaky brushwork sandwiched between brown keyboard with grill and end piece. Part of a brown braided wicker chair that she sits on can be seen at the left. She wears a long-sleeved, pink, high-necked top. The figure’s body faces front, her head turned partially to the left, her eyes half closed. She wears a somber expression. The background shows a bare, grayish-blue wall over a taupe base and brown floor. Brushwork is rough and seemingly random with visible finger smudges and brush strokes. The artist’s signature appears at top left in cursive writing in dark gray paint.

“American painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi created portraits of women throughout his career. His early languid female figures and whimsical circus scenes drew on American folk art and his encounters with European art on two trips to Paris in the 1920s. But by the late 1930s, his earlier dreamy, sensuous girls are replaced with women alone, deep in thought. There is a tense quality to this painting. From the woman’s pensive expression to the deliberately distorted flatness of the chair in which she sits, a kind of taut psychological tension suffuses the work. Even the gray background seems restless, painted in a myriad of colors, brushstrokes at turns thin or thick on the canvas, swirling or jagged.”

Jeannie Kenmotsu, Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art & Interim Head of Asian Art

Yasuo Kuniyoshi (American, born Japan, 1893–1953). Girl with an Accordion, 1941. Oil on canvas. Museum Purchase: Ella M. Hirsch Fund, 41.12 © artist or other rights holder

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