highlights international perspective

Helen Hyde, (American, 1868-1919)

Going to the Fair

Color woodblock print on tissue-thin paper. With artist's HH monogram and red clover seal at lower left, followed by copyright 1910 by Helen Hyde. Numbered below in pencil,164, and signed at far right within the composition, Helen Hyde. Published by the artist in Japan, the blocks carved by Matsumoto and printed by Murata Shôjirô, ca. 1910.

26.8 by 56.3 cm

Leaving Paris in 1894, Hyde returned to her studio in San Francisco and bought an etching press. Within a year, she had started to produce color etchings using a hand-applied technique called à la poupée. In 1899, Hyde traveled to Japan, bringing along her 'Little Miss' (the etching press). She settled in Tokyo, began studying the Japanese language and took lessons in ink painting from Kanô Tomonobu (1843-1912) for two years. Later she rented a house in scenic Nikko.

While in Japan, Hyde continued to make colored etchings, but she also sought out the means to produce color woodblock prints. Her first attempt in 1900, arranged by Ernest Fenollosa in care of the publisher Kobayashi Bunshichi (1864-1923), was a commercial success (the entire edition was bought by her San Francisco dealer) but a disappointment to Hyde. Apparently Fenollosa tried to convince Hyde to allow Kobayashi to produce a large quantity for the Japanese market as she was the first foreign artist the publisher had worked with. When she declined, Fenollosa misrepresented Hyde and instructed Kobayahsi to destroy the blocks, without confirming with Hyde if this was in fact according to her wishes. Although it was Hyde's policy to cancel her own blocks or etching plates after editions of 100 or 250 anyway, presumably Fenollosa's offense was a matter of principle: Hyde preferred to be in control of her own work (Mason & Mason, Helen Hyde, pp. 15-18).

In order to learn how to produce color woodblock prints herself, Hyde sought out the advice of the artist Emil Orlik (cat. no. 3), an Austrian artist who had taught himself to carve and print while living in Munich, but had come to Japan in order to refine his skills. Orlik gave Hyde a set of tools and taught her the fundamentals of carving. Hyde also studied with a Japanese printer. Although Orlik helped Hyde grasp woodblock printmaking techniques, she quickly realized that it would be more efficient to hire Japanese craftsmen for the labor intensive tasks of carving and printing. This is similar to the traditional Japanese hanmoto (publisher) system which involves the collaboration of artist, carver and printer; however, in this case, Hyde was both the artist and the publisher.

Mason & Mason, American Printmakers: Helen Hyde, 1991, p. 52, cat. no. 86
Yokohama Museum of Art, Eyes Towards Asia: Ukiyo-e Artists from Abroad, 1996, p. 39, no. 28


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site last updated
September 22, 2020

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475