The Wildflowers Around Victoria Painted on Silk
Elizabeth Yeend Duer (1889–1951) was born in Nagasaki, Japan. Her father was an Englishman, Yeend Duer (1846–1921) and her mother a Japanese woman, Yasu Tsunekawa (née Zama, 1859–1936). Elizabeth grew up knowing much about both English and Japanese culture and language and learned to selectively deploy this knowledge, depending on context and the message she wished to convey. The Duer family moved to the fashionable, westernized, Ginza district of Tokyo when Elizabeth was about ten years old. They kept an English-style house. The dining room, for example, was furnished with a European-style table and chair set, and the family used knives and forks, not chopsticks. Elizabeth was also practiced in the art of kimono wearing, which she likely learned from her mother. It is said that as an adult Elizabeth Duer only wore kimonos, presenting herself as a Japanese woman.The Duers were early proponents of education for girls and women in Japan. Elizabeth studied nihonga-style painting in the atelier of Gyokushi Atomi (1859–1943), an institution dedicated to the artistic education of women. After some time studying with Gyokushi, Elizabeth took on the artistic identity of Gyokushō.
A British citizen, Elizabeth left Japan for Victoria, British Columbia in the fall of 1940, wearing Western-style clothes. War was on the horizon and Duer felt the tensions between Japan and England escalate. In Victoria, she joined her first cousin and artist Katharine Emma Maltwood (née Sapsworth, 1878–1961) and Katharine’s husband John, who had arrived in Victoria just two years earlier. Katharine’s mother (Elizabeth Duer) and Elizabeth’s father (Yeend Duer) were siblings.
Unlike most Japanese Canadians, Elizabeth was not interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She supported herself by working as a translator and teaching Japanese to officers headed to Burma in the military campaign against Japan. Back in Japan, members of the Duer family were incarcerated as British sympathisers. Remarkably, Elizabeth continued to paint in the nihonga-style and signed her work using her Japanese artistic identity, Gyokushō. In 1941, she exhibited her work with the Island Arts and Crafts Society, publicly presenting herself as a Japanese artist, though Canada was at war with Japan.
Elizabeth Yeend Duer’s Wildflowers Around Victoria Painted on Silk is a gift of the estate of John and Katharine Maltwood, University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries. Permission to reproduce Wildflowers Around Victoria Painted on Silk is granted by the University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries.