Torii Kiyonaga Woman in Bathrobe and Mother Playing with Baby

Torii Kiyonaga, 1752-1815

Current Manners in Eastern Brocade: Woman in Bathrobe and Mother Playing with Baby
(Ko wo ayasu haha to yokugo no onna)

signed Kiyonaga ga, with unidentified collector's seal on verso, ca. 1785

oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 1/2 in., 36.5 by 24 cm

A young woman after her bath dries her ear with the sleeve of her pale blue yukata which is decorated with darker stylized swirls and white kiri (paulownia) leaves. She looks down at a seated mother playing with a toddler who she balances on her knees. The child's red-orange robe has a pattern of the distinctive mimasu ('three rice measure') crest of the Ichikawa line of kabuki actors, likely a reflection of his mother's fandom for Ichikawa Danjuro V (1741-1806), who was at the height of his popularity at the time of production of this print.

The son of a bookdealer, Kiyonaga began his career at the dawn of full-color printing in circa 1765 under the tutelage of Torii Kiyomitsu (1735-1785). The Torii line of artists have been contracted to produce billboards and promotional materials for the kabuki theaters going back to the 17th century, and beginning in 1771, Kiyonaga designed illustrated kabuki programs and books for a period of forty years. In addition to his kabuki material, Kiyonaga was also influenced by bijin-ga artists such as Suzuki Harunobu (ca. 1725-1770), Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790), and Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820). Kiyonaga is most well-known for the images of beautiful women that he designed in the 1780s and until the mid-1790s. He fully-embraced the larger oban size paper with elegant and elongated full-length figures that often filled the composition. Beginning in 1784, Kiyonaga designed nearly forty multi-panel prints placing the beauties within landscapes- a forerunner for future development of the meisho (famous places) genre that would dominate the middle of the 19th century. In 1787, he succeeded his teacher as the fourth-generation head of the Torii School, and in the mid-1790s, Kiyonaga stepped back from designing images of beauties as Utamaro emerged as the leading bijin-ga artist (1753-1806).

In the early days of ukiyo-e scholarship, Kiyonaga was recognized as one of the preeminent 18th century artists; some connoisseurs even identified the close of the 'golden age' to the mid-1790s when Kiyonaga ceased producing bijin-ga. Although subsequent scholarship most-reasonably expanded that grouping to include the entire oeuvre of Utamaro and his immediate contemporaries, early collectors in the West coveted Kiyonaga's work, and his prints likely enjoyed (or suffered) pride of place with prominent display, and, in due course, exposure to light. As such, it seems that extant Kiyonaga prints outside of museums rarely retain their color.

The seminal Kiyonaga catalogue raisonné by Hirano records nineteen designs for this series issued over a period of three years. Two of the four other published impressions of this print are located in museum collections.

References:
Vignier & Inada, Estampes Japonaises: Kiyonaga, Buncho, Sharaku, 1911, p. 31, no. 70, pl. XV (Vever)
Chie Hirano, Kiyonaga: A Study of His Life and Works, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1939, pp. 324-328, pl. LVI, no. 384 (MFA, Boston)
Willy Boller, Masterpieces of the Japanese Color Woodcut: Collection W. Boller, 1957, p. 88-89
Jack Hillier, Japanese Prints and Drawings from the Vever Collection, Volume One, 1997, p. 319, no. 353
Chiba City Museum of Art, Torii Kiyonaga: The Birth of Venus in Edo, 2007, p. 102, no. 94 (Tokyo National Museum)
Ukiyo-e Shuka 2, 1985, p. 71, no. 33, (MFA, Boston)
Andreas Marks: Japanese Woodblock Print: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks (1680-1900), 2010, p. 72

Collections:
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William S. and John T. Spaulding Collection (aquired from E. F. Fenollosa), accession no. 21.5601
Tokyo National Museum, ex Kojiro Matsukata Collection, accession no. A10569-1127

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