A Country Scholar
signed in pencil below the matrix, Elizabeth Keith, a very scarce print, ca. 1938
19 3/8 by 13 5/8 in., 49.2 by 34.7 cm
After her first period of residency in Japan that lasted nearly nine years, Keith returned to Britain in 1924 where she began to learn color etching techniques. At the suggestion of her London agent with the Beaux Arts Gallery, in 1927 Keith went to France to study with a master engraver in etching. Feeling restless, Keith was back in Asia from 1929 to 1932, where her etchings featuring Korean subjects sold particularly well. Her final trip to Japan was in 1934/35, but the political climate was increasingly problematic, derailing her plans to travel through Korea and China in order to accumulate new material for future projects.
Keith returned to England in 1936 and from 1938 focused on producing a series of large color etchings of Korean subjects, a medium at which she now excelled, in spite of deploring the hard labor it required. The aquatint application on her colored etchings shimmer with saturation, one could imagine the long hours she devoted to working with Watanabe's artisans must have informed her printer's eye. Indeed, in 1933 the prestigious The Studio magazine selected Keith as their Print Master of the Year and published her work in their ongoing Masters of the Colour Print series. Further recognition came with a series of successful exhibitions in the United States, topped off by an exciting endorsement in 1937 when The Queen and The Queen Mother visited an exhibition of Keith's work at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London.
In 1946 Keith and her sister Elspet published an illustrated book, Old Korea: Land of Morning Calm. The collaboration presented aspects of traditional Korean life with text written by Elspet accompanied Keith's color etchings, including this print. Elizabeth waxes nostalgically about the subject: "The scholar is from Wonsan. His classic costume goes back in style 800 years, and he is wearing an ancient style of cap. the staff he holds goes with the old-style cosume. It has a white jade knob which its owner carefully kept in view. The cord at my sitter's waist was of carmine silk flowing over the robe, which was a delicate shade of pale blue with a black binding, making a delightful contrast. ...It is a wonderful experience to come face to face with an aged Korean scholar. He has a look of breeding, self-discipline, and sweet gentleness, and his manner is gravely courteous. He seems to be in touch with some region of peace remove from the world of to-day."
Elizabeth Keith & E.K. Robertson Scott, Old Korea: Land of Morning Calm, 1946, p. 56 (color plate), p. 58 (description)
Elizabeth Keith (1887-1956): The Orient Through Western Eyes, An Exhibition of Works from the Murray Warner Collection in The Museum of Art; University of Oregon, 1974, cat. no. 50
Richard Miles, Elizabeth Keith: The Printed Works, 1991, p. 49, no. 70 (color etching of similar figure)
Dongho Chun, Selling East Asia in Colour: Elizabeth Keith and Korea, ResearchGate, May 2020
Jordan Schnitzer Museum, University of Oregan, accession no. MWB53:K1
(inv. no. 10-5141)
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site last updated
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Scholten Japanese Art
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