Helen Hyde (American, 1868–1919)
As an American printmaker of the early twentieth century, Helen Hyde, with her fine handling of colors reminiscent of earlier Japanese brush and print masters, obviously found her identity in Japan where she lived between 1899 and 1914. Hyde was born in New York but raised in the Bay Area, and it was there in San Francisco, as a child of wealth and privilege, that she began to study art at the age of 12. When Helen’s father, an engineer, died when she was 13 years old, his sister Augusta Hyde Bixler (“Aunt Gussie”) helped to keep the Hyde family together and financed Helen’s interest in art. Mrs. Bixler accompanied Helen to New York, where she began her first formal study at the Art Students League. Hyde’s art education continued with studies in Berlin, Paris, and Japan.
It was in Paris, while studying under Félix Régamey, a painter who was an early advocate and collector of Japanese art, that Hyde first became influenced by Japanese perspective, pattern, and content. In 1899 she would travel to Japan to study etching and brush painting but quickly became immersed in color woodblock printing. She learned how to produce prints in a workshop system with Japanese artisans who prepared the blocks and printed them. Hyde also learned to do each step herself and would later hire artisans to come to her studio where she would supervise their work.
In her later years Hyde prided herself on the financial independence and comfortable, middle-class existence that her artwork enabled her to achieve, but it came only with constant work. She marketed her works through dealers in San Francisco and New York. Hyde produced sixty-seven woodcuts, in limited editions that never exceeded more than 200 copies, and marketed them for $2 to $15 each. By 1914 she had signed an estimated 16,000 prints. She confined her work to Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican subjects, with particular emphasis on women and children. Not confining herself to printmaking, she also worked in oils, watercolors, and pastels.
For most American artists of the turn of the twentieth century, painting and printmaking were commonly considered unequal and separate endeavors. Although graphic arts were considered a practical way for the artistically inclined to make a living, the art form was not afforded the serious attention shown painting and sculpture. For Helen Hyde and others of her period engaged in the art, printmaking was a direct product of a creative impulse rather than an extension of another art form.
In this impression, impulsively purchased for $75 by the current owner more than fifteen years ago, Hyde demonstrates the combined influence of Japonisme and the formal design concept of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The current value of this print in a retail setting would be in the $1,000 to $1,200 range.
Nearly complete sets of Hyde’s work can be found in the California State Library, the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Library of Congress.
In the United States during the print revival of the late nineteenth century, trained assistants were often employed for the mass production of prints in order to meet the demand for the affordable art form. In response to this mass production of prints, members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, founded by William Morris in England in the mid nineteenth century, advocated artists being their own artisans, performing the entire process of printmaking so that they could vary each print slightly and thus make each print unique. Despite this appeal, artists influenced by the Japanese artisan tradition, especially Pacific Coast-based printmakers, maintained the workshop system.
Linda Dyer serves as an appraiser, broker, and consultant in the field of antiques and fine art. She has appeared on the PBS production Antiques Roadshow since season one, which aired in 1997, as an appraiser of Tribal Arts. If you would like Linda to appraise one of your antiques, please send a clear, detailed image to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send photo to Antiques, Nashville Arts Magazine, 644 West Iris Dr., Nashville, TN 37204.