Keisai Eisen, Reading a Letter

Keisai Eisen, 1790-1848

Biensennyo-ko (Face Powder): Reading a Letter

signed Keisai Eisen ga, published by Izumiya Ichibei (Kansendo), ca 1824

oban tate-e oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/4 in. (38 by 26 cm)

A young woman is seated while reading a letter she has draped over her knee. She contemplates the missive while resting her cheek in one hand and holding a tobacco pipe in the other. Her comparatively subdued outer kimono with purple and black stripes suggests that she may be a geisha, although she has accessorized in a fashion also favored by courtesans with a combination of gold lacquer and silver hairpins, and beni (safflower dye) lip color, which if applied in multiple layers changes from red to the iridescent green on her lower lip. The inset cartouche illustrates a view of pleasure boats at a bridge, the banners in the foreground may indicate a sumo tournament near Ryogoku Bridge.

This print is from a series of six bijin okubi-e sponsored by a Mr. Sakamoto to advertised his product, the Biensennyo-ko (or Bien Senjoko) face powder, which was named after Senjo, the poetry name for the popular onnagata actor, Segawa Kikunojo III (1751-1810). Even though onnagata were male actors portraying female roles, their hyper-refined mannerisms and exaggerated fashions were admired and often emulated by women as the ultimate expression of femininity and style.

The text to the left of the cartouche is an advertisement for the face powder followed by a kyoka poem (unread) by Tozai-an Nanboku.

Biensennyo-ko toiu
Sakamoto shi no seifuru
nadakaki oshiroi ni
bijin wo yosete

Biensennyo-ko, the well-known popular face powder
made by Sakamoto,
admiring this famous product-
what a beauty!

Mathew Welch & Yuiko Kimura-Tilford, Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2011, p. 247, no. 208 (for another print from this series)
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 143, cat. no. 165



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site last updated
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Scholten Japanese Art
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