Kitao Shigemasa Geisha and Maid Carrying a Shamisen Box

Kitao Shigemasa, 1739-1820

Geisha and Maid Carrying a Shamisen Box

unsigned, with seal Hayashi Tadamasa, ca. 1777

oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/8 in., 38 by 25.7 cm

Shigemasa was the eldest son of the bookseller and publisher Suharaya Mohei whose premises were located in Nihonbashi. He was initially self-taught but later became a student of Nishimura Shigenaga (1697-1756). Shigemasa's early work showed the influence of Suzuki Harunobu (ca. 1725-1770), and he collaborated with Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1793), first on the series, Silkworm Cultivation (Kaiko yashinai gusa) in ca. 1772, and later on the grand illustrated book, Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses (Seiro bijin awase sugata) in 1776. He had several important students and founded the Kitao school, launching the careers of Kubo Shunman (1757-1820) and Kitao Masanobu (who was also a successful poet and writer known by his pen name: Santo Kyoden, 1761-1816).

At the advent of full-color printing in 1765, Shigemasa focused his energies on designing primarily for illustrated books (ehon), producing over 250 in his lifetime, many of which were erotic in nature. With a comparatively small output of single sheet designs, the scarcity of extant Shigemasa prints belies his talent and influence. He worked with over twenty publishers, often with the innovative Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797). In 1774, the first book published by Tsutaya, Thousands at a Glance (Hitome senbon), featured illustrations by Shigemasa. Approximately three years later Tsutaya published an untitled series depicting full-length images of geisha of which this is a part.

The small round seal in the lower left corner is that of the enormously influential art dealer, Tadamasa Hayashi (1853-1906). In his mid-twenties, Hayashi traveled to Paris in 1878 to work as a translator for a corporation managing the Japanese contributions to the Paris Exposition Universelle. At the conclusion of the exhibition, he stayed on to sell off the remaining stock while working for several trading companies and as an assistant to the collector and dealer, Wakai Kenzaburo (1834-1908). In 1884 they established a partnership, the Wakai-Hayashi company. Wen Wakai retired in 1886, Hayashi established the business in his own name. While Hayashi built up the retail side of the business in Paris, his wife, Satoko, remained in Tokyo and employed up to five other specialists (with notoriously high standards), to seek out the best prints for his thriving business in Paris. It was Satoko who suggested that they seal all of the works they handled. It has been estimated that some 160,000 Japanese prints and 10,000 illustrated books passed through Hayashi's hands into Western collections. The Hayashi seal is generally regarded as a reliable indicator of authenticity and quality and most of the great early collections of ukiyo-e were assembled with the help of Hayashi's expertise. In 1913, Hayashi's collection of Western prints and paintings was sold by his family in New York by the American Art Association (see cat. no. 10 & 18). In a foreword to the auction, the academic painter Raphaël Collin (1850-1916) described the monthly 'Diner Japonais' which was founded by another famous Paris-based dealer, Siegfried Bing (1838-1905; an important figure in the development of Art Nouveau), where Hayashi, "steeped in art to his very soul," would nurture their passion for Japanese art with "indefatigable patience and charming good nature."

References:
Laurence Binyon & J.J. O'Brien Sexton, Japanese Colour Prints, 1923, color plate VII (British Museum)
Louis V. Ledoux, Japanese Prints: Buncho to Utamaro, 1948, no. 11
James A. Michener, Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern, 1959, p. 129, color plate 143
Tokyo National Museum, Ukiyo-e Prints, vol. 2, 1962, no. 1366
Ukiyo-e Shuka 15, 1980, p. 79, no. 34 (Tokyo National Museum)
Julia Meech-Pekarik, Early Collectors of Japanese Prints and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 17, 1982, pp 93-118
Julia Meech, The Matsukata Collection of Ukiyo-e Prints, Masterpieces from the Tokyo National Museum, 1988, p. 55, no. 31
Tadashi Kobayashi, Edo Beauties in Ukiyo-e: The James A. Michener Collection, 1994, pp. 36-37, no. 4

Collections:
British Museum, ex Arthur Morrison Collection, accession no. 1906, 1200, 0.109
Honolulu Museum of Art, ex James A. Michener Collection, accession no. 21756
Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Bruxelles, accession no. JP.03990 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William S. and John T. Spaulding Collection, accession no. 21.5856

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