An exhibition exploring the ways in which bijin (lit. 'beautiful person') are presented in ukiyo-e, focusing on the relationship with other 'composed' genres including poetry, music and dance.
Parody of the Yugao Chapter of the Tale of Genji
unsigned, with label on verso in English: Certified Genuine, The Old Prints Society, Tokyo; and in Japanese: Ko Nishiki Shinseikai Tokyo (The Old Prints Society, Tokyo), Kanten ban go, dai rokujuyon ban, shin butsu shomei (number 64th, certified authentic print); with red seal, ca. 1766
chuban tate-e 11 by 8 3/8 in., 28 by 21.3 cm
This composition is a mitate (parody) of the Yugao chapter from the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), the classic Heian Period epic novel following the complicated life and romances of the 'Shining Prince' Genji that inspired endless variations and interpretations in art and literature through the centuries. The title of chapter 4, Yugao (Evening Faces also known as the 'moonflower'), is so well-known that only an image of the flower, perhaps resting on a folding fan, becomes a direct reference to this sad chapter in the story. Of all of Genji's many lovers, the most tragic is the reclusive beauty residing in a neglected mansion covered by vines with flowering yugao blossoms. She refuses to tell Genji anything about herself, including her name, so he calls her Yugao, after she has a female servant present Genji's servant with a blossom on a scented folding fan inscribed with a poem written in beautiful calligraphy. Fascinated, Genji invites the mysterious lady to an remote villa where they consummate their passions. But only hours later, one of Genji's former lovers, the jealous Lady Rokujo, haunts poor Yugao and quickly takes her life.
A mitate is often loosely defined as a parody, but it isn't always a comic send up of a theme. Often a mitate is merely a subtle allusion to a classical subject tthat would be familiar enough to be recognized by the the sophisticated audience of the day. Had Harunobu left out the flowering vines from the fence in the background of this composition, the connection to the Yugao chapter would be lost. The classical reference is updated with contemporary context via the clothing, the setting, and details such as the letter resting on the young girl's fan which is addressed with the polite language of an Edo period courtesan.
Although the composition of the beauty framed by v-shaped pocket created at the intersection of the fence and gateway feels complete, it is actually the left-hand sheet of a rare diptych. The right sheet illustrates an equally fashionably dressed young wakashu (male youth who has not yet completed the ritual to pass into adulthood) extending his own folding fan in her direction. He is accompanied by a boy holding a minature ox cart cricket cage which can be interpretted as another reference to the Tale of Genji, alluding to the famous ox cart 'battle' scene in chapter 9, Aoi.
Margaret O. Gentles, The Clarence Buckingham Collection, Volume II, Art Institute of Chicago, 1965, p. 26, no. 44, accession no. 52.325
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 8, 1980, listed p. 116, no. 114
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 1, 1983, listed p. 169, no. 199
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013, Vol. I, pp. 88-89, cat. no. 100 (Ex. Spaulding Collection) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession nos. 54.348-9 (diptych), and 21.4969 (left sheet)
Tokyo National Museum (webarchives.tnm.jp), accession no. A-10569_1274 (diptych)
(inv. no. 10-5006)
Young Man Playing a Ko-Tsuzumi
signed on the painting of Hotei in the tokonoma, Suzuki Harunobu ga, ca. 1768-69
chuban tate-e 11 by 8 3/8 in., 28 by 21.2 cm
An elegantly dressed young man wearing an outer-robe decorated with stylized cranes is seated before a tokonoma while playing a ko-tsuzumi drum. A closed book in front of him may be a music book or the chant-text from a No play, but the drummer confidently taps from memory. Behind him a bronze vase with chrysanthemum flowers is displayed beneath a sumi ink kakemono (hanging scroll) depicting Hotei with his sack which is signed by Harunobu. To the left an open door leads out to a verandah and a stone water basin with a clump of iris leaves.
Jack Hillier, Suzuki Harunobu, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1970, p. 105, cat. no. 54 (Ex. Ledoux and Cutter Collections)
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013, Vol. I, p. 232, cat. no. 387 (Ex. Spaulding Collection)
Honolulu Museum of Art (honolulumuseum.org), accession no. 14496 (Ex. Michener Collection)
Young Beauty Carrying a Child Pulling a Flower Cart
signed Harunobu ga, ca. 1770
chuban tate-e 10 3/8 by 7 5/8 in., 26.2 by 19.4 cm
A teenaged girl, wearing a furisode (lit. 'swinging sleeves') kimono decorated with an alternating pattern of stylized chidori (plovers) and clusters of snow-covered bamboo, walks while holding a small boy in her arms. As she steps forward her kimono opens at the hem to reveal a peek at her bare leg. The child holds a long cord attached to a small flower cart containing a basketwork vase with an arrangement of autumnal leaves and grasses including chrysanthemums and kikyo (bell flowers).
The poem is by Fujiwara no Michitoshi (1047-1099) from the Kin'yo wakashu (Collection of Golden Leaves), an anthology of waka poems compiled for the retired Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129) by Minamoto no Shunrai (ca. 1055-1129) in 1124 and revised in 1129.
magaki no kiku wo
kesa mire ba
mata sora saenu
yuki zo tsumoreru
I get up early
this morning to find flowers
flowering upon my hedge
as if the snow covered it
-Poem reading courtesy of Ryoko Matsuba, translation by Matsuo Shukuya
Henry W. Joly, Japanese Works of Art Selected from the Mosle Collection, E.A. Seemann, Leipzig, 1914, portfolio II, plate CLII, cat. no. 1932
Yoshida Teruji, Harunobu gashu (Harunobu's Complete Works), 1942, p. 131
Art Institute of Chicago (artic.edu), from the Clarence Buckingham Collection, accession no. 1928.919
Parodies of Hichobo and Rogo
each panel signed Harunobu ga, the right panel with publisher's tomoe mark and seal Nishimura (Nishimuraya Yohachi) of Eijudo, ca. 1770
hashira-e 12 5/8 by 5 1/2 in., 32.2 by 14.1 cm
The figures on both panels are mitate (parody) of classical legends. Although there are a number of possible references for the subject of the beauty on the right seated on a flying crane while holding a long letter, it is most likely a parody of the Chinese Immortal Fei Changfang (Hichobo in Japanese). According to the legend, Fei Chanfang was an official who learned the secret of immortality from an old man he found hiding inside a large jar. The story makes no reference to flying on a crane, however, cranes are associated with longevity and the first two syllables of his name in Japanese can mean 'flying bird' if written with different characters. Thus in a typical Japanese fashion the Chinese legend is appropriated and with a play on words given a new meaning. The left panel depicting a young man holding a fishing pole and creel while riding on a large tortoise through the surf is a mitate of the Chinese Immortal Lu Ao (Rogo in Japanese), whose vehicle is the minogame, a mythical tortoise associated with longevity.
Harunobu illustrated both of these subjects on other prints; in some designs the Rogo figure is depicted as a beauty. However, other impressions of this print have not yet been located. In this possibly unique pairing, the tortoiseshell pattern on the kimono of the beauty on the right subtly references the minogame depicted on the left. There is a similar hashira-e composition from the Michener Collection in the The Art Institute of Chicago identified as the legend of Urashima Taro, a fisherman that visited the kingdom of the Dragon King for what felt like a brief stay but upon his return he discovered he had been gone for hundreds of years.
This print likely dates to circa 1770, around the same time as Harunobu designed an untitled Omi Hakkei (Eight Famous Views) series which was also published by Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudo).
Edwin Grabhorn, San Francisco (1889-1968)
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 10, 1980, p. 199, no. 47 (Grabhorn)
Margaret O. Gentles, The Clarence Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1965, p. 79, cat. no. 130 (identified as Urashima Taro), accession no. 1958.132
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2012, p. 130, cat. no. 184 (legend of Hichobo)
Wakaume of the Tamaya in Edo-machi itchome, kamuro Mumeno and Iroka
(Edo-machi itchome, Tamaya uchi Wakaume Mumeno Iroka)
with mica ground, signed Utamaro hitsu with censor's seal kiwame (approved), with a kyoka, and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Juzaburo, ca. 1793-94
oban tate-e 14 1/2 by 9 5/8 in., 36.8 by 24.6 cm
The courtesan is Wakaume of the zashiki-mochi ('having her own suite') rank of the Tamaya house owned by Tamaya Hayachi, which was located on the right side of Edocho 1 as you entered the street from the main Yoshiwara thoroughfare, Nakanocho. The so-called 'Hayachi Tamaya' was not to be confused with the nearby 'Kadoyamaya' (corner Tamaya), the more elite house of even higher-ranking courtesans. Her two kamuro (child attendants), Mumeno and Iroka are mentioned in the cartouche, and the poem by Hachi no Nanko plays on the literal meaning of her name, Wakaume, or White Plum.
Blossoming from out of
Her snow-white robe
Even her name is fragrant
The flower, Wakaume
In about 1792-1793, the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797) began producing print series by Utamaro depicting half-length portraits of beauties with glittering full-mica backgrounds. These lavish images elevated print production to new heights, establishing both Utamaro and Tsutaya as pre-eminent ukiyo-e artist and publisher, respectively. This print is from a group of three which were likely intended as an informal triptych, each featuring a courtesan identified in the title cartouche with her house and naming her two kamuro with an accompanying kyoka poem. Of the three designs, this composition functions best at the central panel because the figure's body faces one way while she turns to look in the opposite direction, and one of her kamuro peeks out from behind in a rare instance of frontal portraiture.
Vignier & Inada, Estampes Japonaises: Utamaro, 1912, no. 65, pl. XXX (M. Bullier)
James A. Michener, Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern, 1959, p. 145, color plate 160
Shibui, Ukiyo-e Zuten: Utamaro, vol. 13, 1964, p. 50
Ukiyo-e Taikei, vol. 5, 1975, no. 29 (Sakai Collection)
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, listed p. 253, no. 27.2
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, p. 171, no. 121 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Tadashi Kobayashi, Edo Beauties in Ukiyo-e: The James A. Michener Collection, 1994, p. 65, no. 31
Asano and Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, text p. 70 with poem translation, illus. p. 70, no. 127 (Honolulu Academy of Arts)
Honolulu Academy of Arts, ex James A. Michener Collection, accession no. 20800
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto, Sakai Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.14300; and ex William S. and John T. Spaulding from Vignier Collection, accession no. 21.6394
Children at Play as the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets, a Set of Thirty-Six: The Priest Hoshi
(Kodomo asobi sanjurokkasen: Sanjuroku-mai tsuzuki, Ho [Sosei Hoshi])
signed Utamaro hitsu, with publisher's seal 'I' (Sawamuraya Seikichi) and censor's seal kiwame, 1806
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 3/8 in., 39 by 26.2 cm
This print is from a rather obscure series; Collia-Suzuki records only three extant designs in her comprehensive index, none of which we are able to locate in any published reference as of yet.
The poem above the figures is by the Immortal Poet Sosei Hoshi:
sakura yanagi o
miyako zo haru no
The endless of cherry and willow
the capital's springtime
Gina Collia-Suzuki, The Complete Woodblock Prints of Kitagawa Utamaro: A Descriptive Catalogue, 2009, p. 142, no. 89 ('asobi' missing from the series title)
(inv. no. 10-4870)
Ten Views of Famous Floral Places in Edo: Wisteria at Kameido
(Edo hana meisho jukkei, jumai tsuzuki no uchi: Kameido no Fuji)
signed Utamaro hitsu, with publisher's mark Bun (Maruya Bun'emon of Bunjudo), ca. 1805
oban tate-e 15 by 10 3/8 in., 38.2 by 26.5 cm
While this print appears to be from an unrecorded series, the shape and color of the title cartouche, the scale of the figure and the stylization of the face compares very closely with another rare series, Tenkatsu bijin ikebana awase (Contest of Beauties with Flower Arrangements) published by Izumiya Ichibei which is variously dated to circa 1801 (current dating by the MFA, Boston) or 1804 (Hickman, 1978, no. 267; in Marks, 2011). The similarities and scarcity of both series suggests that Utamaro adapted one or the other for the two publishers (which came first is debatable based on circa dates), but neither publisher managed to produce either series in abundance.
Money L. Hickman, ed., Ukiyo-e shuka: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston III, 1978
Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, p. p. 174 (Izumiya Ichibei)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, (Contest of Beauties with Flower Arrangements: Indoor Plum with Flowers in the Bud, dated circa 1801), accession no. 11.14264
(inv. no. 10-4225)
Modern Marionettes: Akoya, the Wife of Kagekiyo and Chichibu Shigetada
(Furyu ayatsuri ningyo: Kagekiyo nyobo Akoya, Chichibu Shigetada)
signed Kikugawa Eizan hitsu, with censor's seal kiwame (approved) and publisher's seal Mi (Mikawaya Seiemon), ca. 1814-17
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 5/8 in., 36.6 by 24.5 cm
The courtesan Akoya, stands bundled up in multiple layers of robes, she wears a dramatic black and gold embroidered obi which is tied loosely in the front, and the sleeves of her outer-robe hang limp because she has pulled her arms inside seeking the warmth against her body. Her musical talents are suggested by the instruments in the background: a koto and a shamisen or kokyu (both are three-stringed instruments), and what appears to be the bow used with a kokyu.
The inset cartouche illustrates a male puppet being manipulated by puppeteers discretely clad in all black. The puppet is Chichibu Shigetada from the Bunraku play Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki which was first staged in Osaka in 1732, and adapted for kabuki a few months later in 1733. This print references the famous 'torture' scene, in which Shigetada, investigating the whereabouts of the rebel Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo, brings his lover, the courtesan Akoya, to court in order to question her. Akoya insists that she has no idea where Shigetada is hiding. After being threatened by an assortment of instruments of torture from another villainous character, Akoya is commanded by Shigetada to play three instruments of music, a koto, a shamisen, and a kokyu. She begins with the koto and sings with a pure heart of her love of Kagekiyo, and then moves on to the shamisen and finishes with the kokyu. Her performance is so perfect and so mesmerizing, Shigetada declares that a liar could not create such music and orders her release. Only the most elite onnagata (actors specializing in female roles) were capable of performing the role of Akoya because of the talent and expertise required to sing and play all three instruments.
Eiko Kondo, ed., Eizan, Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, 1996, p. 100, nos. 262-263 (series)
The Courtesan Chozan of the Chojiya in Edo-machi Nichome
(Chozan, Edomachi nichome, Chojiya)
signed Kikugawa Eizan hitsu, with publisher's closed box seal I (Sanoya Kihei of Kikakudo), ca. 1806-08
aiban tate-e 13 3/8 by 9 1/2 in., 34 by 24 cm
A half-length portrait of a courtesan bundled up in multiple layers of robes holding an unfurled role of paper with her inked brush tip poised to compose a letter or poem. Her hair is adorned with an array of pins and combs, finished off with a gathering of pink fabric behind the high crest of the coiffure. In the background a folded fan displays her name, Chozan, and in the upper left the address and name of her house, Edomachi nichome, Chojiya.
Although depictions of known persons such as kabuki actors or famous teahouse waitresses may not have been portraits in the Western sense of realism, they did by necessity, capture a recognizable, albeit stylized, likeness of their subject which would be all the more appealing and saleable to ardent kabuki fans seeking images of their favorite actors and mementos of exciting performances. Depictions of female subjects, with the possible exception of famous teahouse waitresses, were another matter. While images of famous courtesans were fashion plates and an important part of the ukiyo-e market, the Yoshiwara itself was beyond the reach for most of the male populace (and off limits to women except on certain holidays). Images of courtesans were more about the idea of beauty and the suggestion of an other-worldly fantasy than the souvenir of an actual experience. As such, artists were not obliged to capture an individual courtesan's likeness, and would often amend earlier compositions with an updated hairstyle or kimono pattern and simply change the courtesan's name without making any adjustments to the facial features. Adding to the ambiguity, professional courtesan names were associated with specific brothels and would be handed down to newcomers in a manner similar to kabuki names, further obscuring the identities of individual women.
Bearing this obfuscation in mind, a comparison with a depiction of Chozan of the Chojiya by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) from an untitled series of courtesans on fans (MFA, Boston) suggests a likeness with this portrait by Eizan. Although Utamaro's portrait is not dated, stylistically it appears to have been produced late in his career, around circa. 1805-06, only a few years earlier than this Eizan portrait (those years may account for her slightly fuller face and the hint of a double chin). However, it is unclear if the likeness is to Chozan herself, or the similarity may be simply a reflection of Eizan's following of Utamaro's style.
Eiko Kondo, ed., Eizan, Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, 1996, p. 56, no. 47
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 216492 (Utamaro portrait of Chozan)
Gabrielle H. Grunebaum, Dobbs Ferry, New York (1910-2004)
(inv. no. 10-2171)
Twelve Views of Modern Beauties: The Amused Type, Sumida River
(Imayo Bijin Junikei: Omoshiroso, Sumidagawa)
Keisai Eisen ga, with artist's red circular seal Sen, published by Izumiya Ichibei ca. 1822-23
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 3/4 in., 36.5 by 24.8 cm
A geisha tucks her ivory plectrum under her arm in order to participate in a game of jankenpon (rock/paper/scissors), in some variations of which the loser was obliged to remove an article of clothing. The landscape cartouche in the shape of an unrolled handscroll illustrates a view of boats on the Sumida River near the entrance to the Mimeguri Shrine.
Amy Reigle Newland, ed., The Ear Catches the Eye: Music in Japanese Prints, 2000, p. 171, no. 131
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, pp. 128-129 (series)
(inv. no. 10-0281)
Twelve Views of Modern Beauties: Ryogoku Bridge, Woman of Light-Hearted Appearance
(Imayo Bijin Junikei: Ryogoku-bashi, Ki ga Karuso)
a bust portrait of a geisha tuning a shamisen, her blue kosode is decorated with white flying bats, her grey under-robe with a bamboo pattern, the cartouche in the form of an emakimono illustrating a view of the Ryogoku Bridge, signed Keisai Eisen ga, with artist's red circular seal Sen on the collar, and with publisher's seal Izumi-ichi (Izumiya Ichibei), censor's kiwame seal, ca. 1822-23
oban tate-e 38.5 by 26 cm
The shamisen was an instrument closely associated with the geisha, professional entertainers, who worked along with (but not in the same role) as courtesans. It is not clear if this beauty is a geisha or courtesan, as her clothing and hair ornaments are somewhat more elaborate than was considered acceptable for a geisha, whose appearance was expected to be more reserved (and less tempting) than that of a courtesan. The green color on her lower lip was achieved by multiple layers of beni (safflower dye) which could change from red to iridescent green. The cartouche in the shape of a handscroll shows a view of the Ryogoku Bridge in the commercial heart of the bustling metropolis of Edo.
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, p. 129, pl. 143
A Tokaido Board Game of Courtesans, Yoshiwara Parody of the Fifty-three Pairings: Hakone, Uryuno of Okamotoya
(Keisei dochu sugoroku, mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu: Hakone, Okamoto nai Uryuno)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, the series title within the black cartouche, Keisei dochu sugoroku, and to the right of the pictoral cartouche, Mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu, the print title inscribed within the frame, Hakone, with the courtesan identified below, Okamotoya nai Uryuno, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), ca. 1821-23
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 1/4 in., 38.9 by 26.1 cm
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 193, no. 227
(inv. no. 10-5075)
A Tokaido Board Game of Courtesans, Yoshiwara Parody of the Fifty-three Pairings: Ishibe, Miyoshino of the Tsuruya
(Keisei dochu sugoroku, mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu: Ishibe, Tsuruya nai Miyoshino)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, the series title within the black cartouche, Keisei dochu sugoroku, and to left, Mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu, with the courtesan identified, Tsuruya nai Miyoshino, the inset landscape titled Ishibe within the frame, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), ca. 1821-23
oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 in., 37 by 25.3 cm
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 207, no. 268
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.17945
(inv. no. 10-5275)
Annual Events in the Yoshiwara, Four Seasons in the Pleasure Quarters: Daikagura Performance in the Second Month, Nagao of Owariya
(Yoshiwara yoji, kuruwa no shikishi: Nigatsu, daikagura, Owariya Nagao)
series title within the black square cartouche, Yoshihara yauji (Yoshiwara yoji) kuruwa no shikishi, the print title at the right corner of the overlapping pictorial cartouche, Nigatsu, daikagura, and the courtesan identified to the right, Owariya Nagao, signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido) at lower left, ca. 1823
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 1/4 in., 38.9 by 26.1 cm
A young woman reading a letter beside a paper andon (lantern) rests her chin on the fold of her wrist with her hand tucked protectively into the layers of fabric at her collar. Her apparent distress at the letter's contents is indicated by the disarray of her hair, the clothing unraveling around her, and a noticeably awkward positioning of her feet. In the foreground a packet of Bien Senjoko face powder is positioned for easy identification.
The square cartouche shows a cropped view of a street performance across the top of the shaved heads of an audience framed by stylized yellow bands mimicking the format of an album leaf. Daikagura troupes were associated with the Shinto shrine at Ise, and performed acrobatics including juggling and balancing tricks and shishimai (lion) dances during the New Year. The cylindrical ornament mounted on a pole is of a type the performer would balance on his head while simultaneously playing an instrument or juggling the red balls as seen aloft above their heads.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, pp. 72, 73, nos. 47-49 (three prints from this series)
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Hokusai, Daikagura Performers surimono, ca. 1810, accession no. 74.1.323 (for an example of a performer balancing the same type of ornament)
(inv. no. 10-5076)
Eight Trysts of Geisha and Eight Views on Fans: Night Rain at Ryogoku Bridge
(Ogi hakkei: Ryogoku-bashi yau)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame and publisher's seal Ue, Kawaguchi (Kawaguchiya Uhei of Fukusendo), ca. 1820s
oban tate-e 15 by 10 3/8 in., 38.1 by 26.2 cm
The theme of 'eight views' was adapted from a classical Chinese landscape grouping of Eight Views of the Hsiao and the Hsiang. The Japanese landscape version, Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Lake Biwa [Omi]), is a collection of eight famous views from the scenic area around Lake Biwa, which were frequently likened to beauties or employed in mitate-e (parody prints). While context of the landscape views were set with poetic references: Evening Snow, Evening Bell, Autumn Moon, Returning Sails, Wild Geese Descending, and the subject of this print, Night Rain, the specific locations were ever-changing as suited the needs of the artist (or poet). In this series, the classic theme is alluded to as Eight Views of the Fan, but the landscape elements are all locations around Edo. In the case of this design, the Night Rain view is located at the Ryogoku Bridge- an important conduit across the Sumida River which also leant its name to the bustling neighborhood of Ryogoku on the eastern shore of the river. The classic theme is played on further by replacing the Omi Hakkei title with the similar sounding series title of Ogi Hakkei (Eight Views of the Fan), but the single kanji used for 'Ogi' (fan) was replaced with two kanji which together could be read as a 'tryst' (or date) with a 'singing girl' (ie. geisha or prostitute), thus adding a layer of wordplay for the urban sophisticates of Edo.
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, cat. nos. 157-158 (other prints from the series)
William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.17891
(inv. no. 10-5232)
Seven Komachi Courtesans of the New Yoshiwara: Amagoi Komachi, Hanaoka of the Sano Matsuya
(Shin yoshiwara yukun nana komachi: Amagoi Komachi, Sano Matsuya no uchi Hanaoka)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame and publisher's seal of Tatsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), ca. 1820-23
oban tate-e 14 1/4 by 9 1/2 in., 36.2 by 24 cm
The courtesan Hanaoka of the Sano Matsuya approaches an open shoji door revealing rain falling from a darkened sky. Apparently, this is no mid-summer shower as she is bundled up in multiple layers of padded robes, secured by an obi embroidered with golden ho-o (phoenix) tied in the front with the long ends nearly reaching her toes peeking out from beneath her warm clothing. She holds a poem slip in her hand, perhaps the bad weather is thwarting her attempts to send a heartfelt missive to her lover.
The series title, Seven Komachi Courtesans of the New Yoshiwara (Shin Yoshiwara yukun nana komachi), promises a comparison of specific courtesans from the Yoshiwara (licensed pleasure quarters) to the legendary beauty of the immortal poet, Ono no Komachi (ca. 825-900), within the context of the classical grouping of seven Noh plays portraying apocryphal incidents in the life of the poet which are known collectively as the Nana Komachi (Seven Komachi). The episode referenced here, Amagoi (Praying for Rain), is from a Noh play in which Komachi composes a rain-beseeching waka poem.
This series specifies the 'New Yoshiwara,' because the quarters had been moved further up the Shinagawa River near the neighborhood of Asakusa after the 'old' Yoshiwara located more centrally near Nihonbashi was destroyed in the Meireki Fire of 1657. Eventually, the newness wore off and it was generally known as the Yoshiwara. However, the 'new' Yoshiwara in the title could allude to the rebuilding of the Yoshiwara following one of the numerous devastating fires that ravaged the quarters periodically (between 1768 and 1866 the district burned to the ground eighteen times).
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, object no. 1974.087.001
(inv. no. 10-5229)
Twelve Months of Floating World Beauties: Sixth Month, Tenno Festival
(Ukiyo bijin junikagetsu: Rokugatsu, Tenno matsuri)
series title within the red cartouche at right, Ukiyo bijin junikagetsu, print title within the pictoral cartouche above, Rokugatsu, Tenno matsuri, with vertical banners inscribed Gion Gozu (Gozu Tenno in Gion), signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark Sanoki (Sanoya Kihei), ca. 1830
oban tate-e 15 1/8 by 10 3/8 in., 38.5 by 26.5 cm
The background inscribed with the words including Gion, takigawa (rapids), kei (scenery), ki (awaken) at the left, and the word kesho (make up) at the right
A beauty begins her morning bathing ritual while standing beside her kyodai (mirror stand) with a a drawer partially open so we glimpse at her cosmetics and with a packet of Bien Senjoko face powder prominently placed for optimal advertising in the foreground.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 285, cat. no. 147-6
Digital Collections of Keio Univeristy Libraries (dcollections.lib.keio.ac.jp), accession no. 20301
(inv. no. 10-5073)
Two Beauties with a Maid Carrying Lantern and Shamisen
each sheet signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with publisher's seal Mi (Mikawaya Seiemon), the middle and right sheet includes censor's seal kiwame (approved), ca.1820
oban tate-e triptych 15 1/2 by 35 in., 39.37 by 88.9 cm
Kunisada presents three beautiful women guided by lantern light at night. They are either courtesans or more likely geisha (professional entertainers) on their way to a party with their maid in the lead carrying their shamisen box while carefully tipping her paper lantern downward in order to illuminate the scurrying dog which has startled the beauty on the left. The beam of light highlights the beautiful women as well as the gorgeous patterning on their kimono and casts all else into grey swirling shadows created by the printer utilizing a technique called baren sujizuri. In the center and right background are figures in silhouette, while two young messengers carrying lanterns and bells dash off to the left.
Juzo Suzuki and Isaburo Oka, Masterworks of Ukiyo-e: The Decadents, 1969, pp. 38-39, nos. 33-35
Matthi Forrer, The Baur Collection: Japanese Prints, 1994, Vol. I, no. G266
Utagawa Kunisada: 150th Anniversary of His Death, Ota Memorial Museum of Art, 2014, p. 96, no. 107 (titled Edo no yoru, or, Night of Edo)
(inv. no. C-1931)
Hours of the Yoshiwara: The Hour of the Rooster, Sixth Hour of Twilight
(Yoshiwara tokei: Tori no koku, kure mutsu)
titled at the upper right, Yoshiwara tokei: Tori no koku, kure mutsu, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), signed Gototei Kunisada ga, and publisher's seal Kichi (Enomotoya Kichibei of Hoeido), ca. 1818-20
oban tate-e 15 1/4 by 10 1/8 in., 38.7 by 25.7 cm
A lavishly attired courtesan powders her nose in front of a black lacquer kyodai (mirror stand), her voluminous uchikake spreading out behind her like an ornate carpet. A packet of Bien Senjoko face powder is situated in the foreground in an early example of product placement. In the pictoral cartouche above we see a vignette of a young woman holding a shamisen while standing beside a man ringing a bell at the entrance to a teahouse or restaurant.
Robert Schaap, Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty, 2016, p. 42, no. 4 ('The hour of teh ox, eighth hour of the night'- another print from this series) The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), accession no. 11.29901
(inv. no. 10-5074)
Naniwa Shinmachi: Tayu Courtesan Suminoe of the Western House Ogiya
(Naniwa shinmachi: Nishi no Ogiya nai Suminoe Tayu)
titled below the Ogi (folded fan), Naniwa Shinmachi: Nishi no Ogiya nai Suminoe Tayu, the words above the figure ends with the last row, Edo Ryutei Tanehiko dai (written by Ryutei Tanehiko in Edo), Toto (Eastern Capital) Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), publisher's seal Sen'ichi han (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), ca. 1821
oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/4 in., 38.1 by 26.1 cm
The young tayu (highest ranking courtesan) Suminoe is seated beside a folding screen on her volumnious bedding while holding a large and lavishly adorned tobacco pipe of a type used by men. A longer and more elegant pipe more suited for a woman rests on a tray with a small brazier. The folding fan (ogi- the name of her house) in the upper right corner is marked Nishi ('west'- a reference to Naniwa, or Osaka), and the inset cartouche depicts a party with entertainers at teahouse set in a garden. The height of her multiple layers of futon which would have been gift by a patron confirm her popularity, while the text above, written by Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842), affirms that "no one will forget her passion." Tanehiko would later ensure his own fame when the publisher Tsuruya Kiemon began issuing his serialized novel, A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasake Inaka Genji) from 1829-1842.
In order to keep up production throughout Kunisada's long and prolific career, he frequently and by necessity borrowed compositional elements from his own (or his studio's) work. While this print was issued by the long-standing publishing house of Kansendo, it is quite rare and perhaps the only known design for this unrecorded series which is not listed in Marks' compendium, Schaap's selected series checklist, or The Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) Project (www.kunisada.de). The unusual signature on this print, Toto (lit. 'Eastern Capital' or Edo) Kunisada ga, establishes that while the theme may be beauties of Naniwa (Osaka), the artist is Edokko (lit. 'child of Edo'). Kunisada revisited the concept for another (smaller) publisher, Iseya Rihei of Kinjudo, apparently in the same year. For the Kinjudo series, Pictorial Gatherings of Remarkable Women of the Floating World (Ukiyo meijo zue), Kunisada expanded the theme beyond Osaka to other cities, and he simplifies the compositions by enlarging the folding fan and rotating it vertically to contain the accompanying landscape cartouche. One of the designs from the series, Tayu of Shinmachi District in Osaka (Tayu Naniwa Shinmachi) relates even more directly, depicting a seated beauty placed in a very similar setting, surrounded by her layers of bedding and framed by the backside of the folded screen in the left foreground. She leans to her right in a similar pose holding folded tissues to her mouth. This beauty is a bit more saucy with her splayed feet peeking out from her kimono which is opening slightly to reveal her red under robe and an exposed leg, while a lit tobacco pipe emits smoke curling dangerously near the hem. The small brazier on the tray holds burning incense with its trail of smoke wafting upwards and a feminine tobacco pipe rests beside it. In both compositions the direction of her attention and the presence of two tobacco pipes indicates an unseen lover (or customer) behind the folding screen.
Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, p. 161-162, no. 152, on Iseya Rihei; and pp. 170-177, entry 180 on Izumiya Ichibei
Ota Memorial Museum of Art, Utagawa Kunisada: 150th Anniversary of His Death, 2014, p. 85, no. 88 (Tayu of Shinmachi District in Osaka)
Robert Schaap, Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty, 2016, p. 44, no. 8 (courtesan's name read as Edayu)
Collection National Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden, Coll. no. 1-4472-189
(inv. no. 10-5077)
Mirror of Famous Ukiyo-e Artists: Picture by Okamura Masanobu
(Meihitsu ukiyo-e kagami: Tanchosai Okumura Bunkaku Masanobu hitsu)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame and publisher's mark Jin (Maruya Jinpachi of Enjudo), ca. 1825
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 10 in., 36.6 by 25.3 cm
A teenaged girl seated before a kyodai (vanity) stares into the mirror while concentrating at applying her eyebrow makeup. In the open cabinet we see various beauty products including a coil of the binding used in hairstyling. Her own coiffure adorned with several ornaments and rose-colored bows indicates that of a young woman, perhaps not yet adept in the application of her makeup. A lacquer pillow and cushion rest on her folded futon bedding in the background, and in the foreground there is a packet of Bien Senjoko face powder, whose owner, Mr. Sakamoto, frequently arranged such product placements in woodblock prints featuring bijin or kabuki actors. The cosmetic powder was named after Senjo, the poetry name of the actor Segawa Kikunojo III (1751-1810), a kabuki actor revered for his portrayals of female roles.
This print is one of nine known designs from a bijin series based on a theme celebrating early ukiyo-e artists. Each print includes a hanging scroll in the background illustrating a beauty identified with relevant artist's signature. In this composition the hanging scroll depicts a walking courtesan (identified by the large knot of her obi tied in the front) signed by the great ukiyo-e master, Okamura Masanobu (d. 1764). Other known prints from the series acknowledge the work of important ukiyo-e artists including Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650), Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694), Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790), and Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792).
Mathew Welch & Yukio Kimura-Tilford, Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2011, p. 247, no. 208 (on Mr. Sakamoto and Bien Senjoko)
William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 11.30449
(inv. no. 10-5227)
Collection of Otsu-e: Chokaro's Horse
(Otsu-e tsukushi: Chokaro)
signed Konomi ni ojite Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame, and publisher's mark Hayashi (Iseya Rihei of Kinjudo), ca. 1827
oban tate-e 15 1/8 by 10 1/8 in., 38.5 by 25.7 cm
This print is from a series pairing beauties with popular subjects depicted in the lively folk paintings produced in the village of Otsu. The image in the upper right cartouche is that of Chokaro's Horse. According to legend, the Sennin (Chinese sage) Chokaro carried gourd from which he could magically summon his horse at will.
William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 11.43105
the title, Jisei, within a cartouche in the shape of the artist's Toshidama seal, signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with censor's kiwame seal and publisher's mark Mi (Mikawaya Seiemon), 1820s
oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 10 3/8 in., 37.4 by 26.5 cm
A young beauty appears to be struggling to pull on her outer-robe which is decorated with a pine needle motif. One wonders how she will manage to secure it closed with the two obi that are snaking around each other on the floor.
The title cartouche, Jisei indicates this print appears to be variant from the series Tosei (or Jisei), usugesho (Light Makeup of Present Times), although this impression is lacking the second vertical cartouche which would complete the full series title. With approximately only 10 designs recorded and few extant impressions, this rare bijin series appears to date to the mid 1820s.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession nos. 17.3214.28 and RES.54.187.13 ('Tosei' versions); and no. 11.15235 ('Jisei' version),br> (inv. no. 10-3275)
Light Makeup in the Modern Style: Beauty on a Ladder
the series title, Tosei (present or modern times) in the circular cartouche in the shape of the artist's Toshidama seal, overlapping a rectangular banner-shaped cartouche continuing the title, usugesho (light make-up), signed Gototei (trimmed) Kunisada ga with artist's double Toshidama seal, censor's seal kiwame, publisher's mark Mi (Mikawaya Seiemon, possibly of Shimizu), ca. 1825-26
oban tate-e 14 1/2 by 9 3/4 in., 36.9 by 24.8 cm
A beauty carefully negotiates a ladder while carrying a small ceramic jar of makeup. The loosely tied obi barely secures the partially open kimono with its long furisode (lit. 'swinging sleeves') trailing on the rungs. The figure's hairstyle is distinguished by a small shaved patch just behind the forelock in manner associated with male wakashu (young men who have not reached the age of maturity at which point they shave their entire pate), although women inspired by gorgeous kabuki actors would mimic this fashion as well. The facial features with an alert, wide-eyed expression and the slightly protruding lower lip are noticeably similar to that of the great kabuki actor, Iwai Hanshiro V (1776-1847), an onnagata (actor specializing in female roles) who was known for his beauty and distinctive mesenryo (lit.'eyes worth a thousand gold pieces').
This design is from a rare mid-1820s bijin (lit. 'beautiful person') series featuring figures in various stages of dressing that was published utilizing three variations on the series title: Tosei usugesho (Light Makeup in the Modern Style); Jisei usugesho (Light Make-up of Present Times) and Jisei (Present Times). Although only ten designs are recorded, the series is notable in that among the female figures there is at least one unambiguous male subject depicting an actor wearing a murasaki boshi (purple cloth worn by onnagata to cover their shaved pate) applying make-up while seated at a mirror mounted with a lantern. In the background are distinctive stage props including a massive axe used in famous axe duel scene from the play Seki no to, and a water bucket of the type used in the story the tragic sister salt-gatherers, Matsukaze and Murasame. That design has been identified as a thinly-veiled portrait of Segawa Kikunojo V (1802-1832), a leading onnagata in the 1820s who was regarded as being so attractive, he influenced the way ukiyo-e artists depicted beautiful women.
Kunisada included the Kikunojo V portrait and this Hanshiro V likeness within this bijin series as idealized types in a way that transcends gender while also demonstrating how influential leading onnagata were upon fashions and perceptions of beauty itself.
Narazaki Muneshige & Shugo Asano, eds, Hizo ukiyo-e taikan, Victoria and Albert Museum, vols. 4-5, 1988-1989, vol. 5, fig. 1 (Segawa Kikunojo V portrait)
Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, pp. 235-236
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, accession nos. 17.3214.28 and RES.54.187.13 (both with series title Tosei usugesho); no. 11.15235 (series title Jisei usugesho)
Sixteen Wonderful Considerations of Profit: no. 3, Saint Karikosu Says Borrowing Too Much Is Unprofitable
(Myo densu juroku rikan: san, Karikosu Sona)
signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi giga (comic pictures by Kuniyoshi) with artist's Kiri seal, with censor's seal Murata, and publisher's seal of Enshuya Matabei, ca. 1845
oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/8 in., 38 by 25.8 cm
This series presents women engaging in various everyday activities juxtaposed with sixteen rakan (Buddhist disciples of merit who have been released from the cycle of rebirth) representing various human failings and worldly struggles such as greed, gluttony, wastefulness, impatience, indecision, poverty, and in this design, debt.
Although this impression appears to be very crisp, it is likely a second state of the design. In other extant impressions, in the hanging scroll in the background the figure of Karikosu carries a staff with paper votive slips resting on his shoulder. It seems likely that there was some damage to that area of the keyblock which inspired the solution of replacing the staff with a black lacquer biwa.
B.W. Robinson, Kuniyoshi, 1961, series list #103
Robert Schaap, Heroes & Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi, 1998, pp. 268-269, series list #11
The British Museum (Ex. Arthur Miller Collection), accession no. 2008,3037.14614
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Ex. Bigelow Collection), accession no. 11.36309
(inv. no. 10-5225)
Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only
Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm for no more than two individuals at a time.
In order to adhere to New York State guidelines visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
site last updated
May 14, 2021
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475
Join our mailing list...