Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Little Joe with Cow

Kuniyoshi loved his adopted country, but was considered a potential enemy.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Little Joe with Cow, 1923, oil on canvas, 71.1 x 106.7 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). Speakers: Dr. Jennifer Padgett, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Dr. Beth Harris

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Kuniyoshi, Little Joe

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Key points

  • Although Yasuo Kuniyoshi immigrated to the United States from Japan when he was 16 years old and considered himself American, discriminatory immigration laws barred him from gaining American citizenship. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kuniyoshi was not sent to an internment camp, but he was placed under house arrest and questioned by government officials. Like other non-citizen Japanese, Germans, and Italians, he was classed as an “enemy alien.”
  • Kuniyoshi was influenced by European modernism, American folk art, and Japanese ink drawings. He combined these influences into his own dreamlike style that blends elements of the familiar and the strange.

Go deeper

The War At Home: Civil Rights and Japanese Americans at PBS

Read about the 1924 Immigration Act and earlier limits on Japanese immigration in the early 20th century

Primary sources related to Japanese American internment during World War II

Japanese American internment camp newspapers

Read more about Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s paintings and his use of the cow as a symbol

Read a biography of Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the National Gallery of Art

A profile of Yasuo Kuniyoshi form NPR’s Morning Edition

More to think about

In his paintings, Yasuo Kuniyoshi often combined whimsical, dreamy elements with a sense of foreboding or danger. Looking closely at Little Joe with Cow, how are these two feelings brought together? Does one emotion dominate, in your opinion?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.