Katsukawa Shuncho, fl. ca. 1780-1795
Visiting the Mimeguri Shrine at Mukojima
signed Shuncho ga, ca. 1790s
hashira-a 24 3/8 by 4 3/4 in., 61.8 by 12.2 cm
Shuncho was a student of Katsukawa Shunsho (1743-1793), a talented painter and print designer who founded the Katsukawa school, dominating the kabuki print market by the early 1770s. Shunsho had many accomplished students that followed their master in the kabuki genre - perhaps the field was too crowded for Shuncho who became a designer primarily of images of beauties and erotic works.
This pillar print reveals the influence of Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815), a leading designer of bijin-ga who shared a similar background with Shuncho in that he had a formal lineage to a school that focused on kabuki subjects, the Torii School (which Kiyonaga would head from the late 1780s). The composition appears to have been inspired by a circa 1787 Kiyonaga triptych depicting a group of ladies visiting the Mimeguri Jinja. The triptych illustrates figures in the foreground with the low-lying pathways of the temple grounds in the background. The location is readily identifiable as Mimeguri with its stone torii gate at the base of a set of stairs climbing a steep embankment. The shrine is located in Mukojima, which was not far from the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters and it was frequented by residents of the entertainment districts. In the center sheet of the Kiyonaga triptych there are two ladies walking beneath a blue umbrella which Shuncho adapted with changes to the folds of the kimono opening to reveal more leg and the addition of a pink folding fan in the hand of his figure. In the background we see a condensed version of the temple grounds with the edge of the landmark stone torii jutting into the composition.
Interestingly, there is also a pillar print by signed Shunko (an obscure artists Pins identifies as Katsukawa Shunko II, fl. ca. 1770s-1790s), with a nearly identical walking figure holding an umbrella and the same opening of the kimono at the hem, but with a completely different background landscape placing the beauty along a shore. Although it is difficult determine with certainty the order of publication, it appears that this print by Shuncho which manages to incorporate elements of Mimeguri landscape is more closely related to the Kiyonaga, and that Shunko II then adapted Shuncho's figure to his composition. Regardless of who designed it first, hashira-e were designed to mimic a hanging scroll in order to facilitate easy display, and as a result, extant impressions are scarce enough as it is, even more so with any preservation of color.
Chie Hirano, Kiyonaga: A Study of His Life and Works, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1939, pl. LXXIII, no. 848 (Kiyonaga print)
Harold P. Stern, Master Prints of Japan, 1969, pp. 164-165, no. 79 (MFA Boston; Shunko II print)
Jacob Pins, The Japanese Pillar Print: Hashira-e, 1982, p. 231, no. 587 (MFA Boston; Shunko II print); and p. 269, no. 725 (Arthur Davison Ficke; this design)
Legion of Honor, San Francisco, ex Carlotta Mabury Collection, accession no. 54755.983
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