Theodore Wores (1860-1939)
Theodore Wores (1860-1939)

Lotus Pond, Shiba, Tokyo

Theodore Wores (1860-1939)
Wores, Theodore
Lotus Pond, Shiba, Tokyo
signed, dated and inscribed with the artist's Japanese device 'Theo. Wores, Tokio 1886' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 26 in. (51.4 x 67.9 cm.)
William H. Gerdts and Jan Newstrom Thompson, Theodore Wores An American Artist in Meiji Japan, Pacific Asia Museum, 1993, pp. 44 and 124, illustrated

Lot Essay

Lotus Pond, Shiba, Tokyo is a rediscovered masterpiece from Theodore Wores' first sojourn to the exotic land of Japan between 1885 and 1887. Painted in 1886, Wores captures a purely Japanese scene, revealing the tranquility of the local people in their brightly colored traditional dress as they cross a low bridge over a blossoming lily pond. This work is illustrated and cited as 'unlocated' in the catalogue Theodore Wores, An American Artist in Meiji Japan, that accompanied the Pacific Asia Museum exhibition. Many of the paintings executed on Wores' first journey to Japan were sold through exhibitions in major art centers in the United States and Europe and have disappeared into private collections remaining unlocated today. We are delighted to offer this important work, accompanied by it's original frame which was commissioned by Wores and designed and created by a local Japanese artisan.

A native of San Francisco, Wores was fortunate to live in the city during a time of tremendous urban growth as a result of the California Gold Rush. During this period, San Francisco produced an opera house, theaters, museums and literary societies and was called the "Paris of the West." News of the recently discovered gold reached a very diverse population, from the territories of the United States to Europe, Mexico, Central and South America, Australia and Asia. Wores was particularly fascinated by the Chinese culture and was very innovative in his depictions of this genre in his paintings. He made regular visits to Chinatown capturing scenes of everyday life such as fishmongers, shopkeepers, flower markets, funerals, the theater and opium dens. This early exposure to Oriental culture was the catalyst that eventually led Wores to Japan where he would create what is considered his most important works.

In 1875, Wores traveled to Munich for formal artistic education, where he met Frank Duveneck, a Bohemian artist from Cincinnati, Ohio. Duveneck impressed the American artists in Munich with his swift, broken handling of brushstrokes and his rich color palette. In 1879 Wores traveled with Duveneck and the Duveneck Boys (who consisted of William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, Joseph de Camp, and Wores, among others) to Italy where he met James Abbott McNeil Whistler. Whistler had a dramatic influence on Wores and the future direction of his artwork, convincing him to consider and study the art of Japan.

These ideas stayed with Wores when, after seven years of European study, he returned to San Francisco. In California, Wores was in search of similar subjects that attracted him in Europe. As most regional painters of his time, he set out to capture the beautiful and colorful California landscape. From the top of Mount Tamalpais to the sand dunes of Monterey, Wores created lively and colorful landscapes, which were very popular with his art patrons. His skill earned him great accolades among his peers and he was elected a member of the Bohemian Club, a progressive club of the artistic elite. Despite his success as a portrait and landscape painter, Wores maintained a deep interest in all things Oriental. Remembering Whistler's advice to study the art of Japan and of his exposure to Japanaise while in Europe, Wores embarked on a voyage to Yokohama, Japan in February 1885.

In 1858, Yokohama had been established as a port to accomodate Western trade and was one of the few population centers of the country that would allow Western visitors. It's location near the Meiji imperial city of Tokyo contributed to it's prosperity. During this period, Western infiltration threatened traditional Japanese customs. In spite of this, Wores was overwhelmed by this strange land and his "first impressions provoked an uncharacteristic artistic paralysis: 'I can't tell you what an effect my first few months stay in that country had upon me. I could do nothing, settle down to nothing, it was all so new, so strange, so wonderfully beautiful that when I looked around for a subject I was bewildered. I wanted to do everthing at once, and consequently, for a time, I did nothing."(Jan Newstrom Thompson, An American Artist in Meiji Japan, Pacific Asia Museum, 1993, p. 32 - taken from a quotation without citation in Ferbrache, p 16.)

Wores was fastidious in his desire to learn about Japanese culture and had amassed an extensive library on a variety of Japanese subjects. In his painting, he left behind the influences of his German education and turned to a brighter palette and loose impressionistic brushstrokes. Despite the onslaught of Western influence in the country, Wores consciously captured traditional Japan in his paintings. He portrayed "tantalizing scenes of characteristic Japanese architecture juxtaposed with figures in traditional dress and a profusion of local vegetation recording the particularities of the place in a straightforward, almost reportorial style. Wores was very aware of his role as interpreter of a vanishing aspect of Japanese culture" (Ibid p. 37).

Thompson writes of Wores' Japanese frames, "Characteristic of the paintings executed between 1885 and 1887 were intricately carved frames whose outlines exist only in photographs saved in Theodore Wores' own personal scrapbook. These unusual, decidedly non-Western extensions of his Far Eastern motifs were carved by a local craftsman... It was apparently Wores' idea to create a frame of native lotus leaves to expand on the Japanese motifs of the painting in question. Wores marveled at the skill with which the artisan executed his commission: 'A rough piece of camphor wood, which represented one side of the frame, lay before him. With a few rapid strokes of his brush he indicated the general design, and then, without any further preparation, seized his hammer and chisel and without hesitation boldly hacked away at the wood, making the chips fly in every direction. Before long the unmistakable forms of lotus leaves, flowers, turtles, and waterlilies gracefully intermingled, began to appear.'" (Ibid, p. 43) Lotus Pond, Shiba, Tokyo is illustrated with its spectacular original frame in a photograph taken from Theodore Wores' scrapbook in An American Artist in Meiji, Japan. This important handcrafted frame accompanies the lot.