The paintings on this page, created by artists from Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong, exemplify different ways of expressing female beauty. Many of the paintings tie tradition—whether it is in the use of traditional materials and techniques, depictions of traditional hair styles and clothing or references to traditional ways of representing women in art—to more modern sensibilities.
Yu Kawashima (川島優展), Japan
With their large eyes, light irises, pale complexion, delicate features, thin eyebrows, wavy hair and long bangs, the twins in Yu Kawashima’s Deja Vu present an ethereal, modern and highly stylized version of beauty. Their dainty beauty is well-suited to the artist’s ‘soft’ painting style. Yu Kawashima’s artwork extends from Nihonga—Japanese painting using traditional conventions, techniques and materials (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonga)—but embraces the more modern style of his subjects. He uses ink and traditional pigments on Japanese paper (View the artist’s page at Whitestone Gallery: whitestone.hk/artists/d/?id=23).
Nugroho Wijayatmo, Indonesia
The women in these two portraits by Nugroho Wijayama have a contemporary high-fashion look, as if they had just stepped out of the pages of a glossy magazine. Overlaid over the portraits are gold outlines of women as they were depicted in Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints—full faces, tiny features and elaborate hairstyles full of pins and combs (You can read the article The Representation of Women in Edo Period Nikuhitsu Ukiyo-e Paintings for more information and examples). The modern women in Nugroho Wijayama’s acrylic on canvas paintings— with their casual hairstyles and bare shoulders—certainly appear less constrained than their Edo-era counterparts, but women nowadays still face subtle pressure to meet what can be very selective standards of beauty (See the artist’s page at the Affinity for Art website: www.affinityforart.com/wijayatmo-nugroho).
Li Guijin (李貴君), China
Beijing-based artist Li Guijin specializes in painting adolescent girls, idealistically focusing on the purity and simplicity of this transitional period between childhood and adulthood. The girls in his painting are relaxed and elegantly posed and and appear to living in a kind of self-contained dreamlike world, untroubled by the harsh realities of the world. In his paintings, Li focuses on composition and technique and pays a great deal of attention to skin tones, using “a finely rendered mix of brown, red, blue, green, turquoise blue and white tones inspired by the artist Rembrandt” (See the artist’s page at Schoeni Art Gallery www.schoeniartgallery.com/artists/65-li-guijun/overview).
Zhang Xiangming (張向明), China
The subjects in these two oil paintings have a very ambiguous kind of beauty. Are they girls, teens or young women? In the oil on canvas painting above, is the purplish area around one eye a hint of a bruise or simply the result of inexpertly applied makeup? There is a kind of strength and resolve in the subjects’ expressions, but also a kind of vulnerability and innocence (See the artist’s page at the Soemo Fine Arts website: www.soemo-fine-arts.com/artist?id=866).
Phuong Quoc Tri, Vietnam
Self-taught Vietnamese artist Phoung Quoc Tri focuses on figurative painting with women being a favorite subject. His portraits tend to have a soft and warm feel and the women in his paintings often appear to be in a wistful, reflective mood (See the artist’s page at ArtBlue Studio: artbluestudio.com/phuong-quoc-tri).
Kwok Wan-hei, Hong Hong
Kwok Wan-hei’s painting, Insularity, was shown at an exhibition of Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Featured in the article Where do the New Batch of CUHK Fine Arts Graduates from here?). A main theme of the work is the coexistence of loneliness and sociability.
Interestingly, she portrays the young women using a style that seems to be a cross between her subjects’ modern sensibilities and the Edo-era Japanese way of depicting women that was also referenced in Nugroho Wijayatmo’s paintings—with full white faces (but not quite so full, not quite so white), tiny red lips (but not quite so tiny, not quite so red), calm expressions, and small (but not quite so small) eyes.
In the portraits by these five artists, there is a sense of tradition and an emphasis on femininity, but the subjects in the paintings also embody elements of modernity. The portraits present a form of beauty that is delicate yet strong, a beauty that looks gently back to the past yet confidently embraces the present.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
- Flickr: Beauty: Artwork focusing on female beauty
- Google Photos: Beauty: Artwork focusing on female beauty
- Which of the paintings on the page do you like best? Why?
- To what extent do the paintings on this page reinforce gender stereotypes? To what extent to they challenge stereotypes?
- Is female beauty emphasized in art to the same degree it is in the mass media?
Draw or paint a portrait that captures what your idea of beauty is.
~ text and photos by longzijun
Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists