Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753-1806
Komurasaki of the Tamaya House After a Bath
(Yuagari no Fuzei Gyokuro Komurasaki)
signed Utamaro hitsu, with publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Chusuke), and red oval-shaped collector's seal Buronto (Paul Blondeau) beneath the signature, ca. 1797-99
oban tate-e 15 1/8 by 10 1/8 in., 38.5 by 25.6 cm
Although the inscription at the upper right reads Gyokuro Komurasaki; the kanji for 'gyoku' can also be read 'tama,' and as such, refers to the prestigious brothel run by Tamaya Sansaburo. While the brothels were all designated by ya (house or shop) attached at the end of their names, around the Temmei Period (1781-1786) the character ro (for two-storied or high houses) came into use. The Tamaya house was also known as the Kadotamaya (corner Tamaya), in reference to its well-situated location on the corner of Edocho 1, the first street on the right from the Great Gate entrance to the Yoshiwara. The portrait is of Tamaya's famous courtesan Komurasaki, who held the highest rank of yobidashi ('on call'), which meant she only could be seen by making an appointment through a teahouse. Utamaro included Komurasaki in his earlier yellow-ground series of three-quarter length portraits of courtesans, Array of Supreme Beauties of the Present Day (Toji zensei bijin zore) in 1794.
In Ukiyo-e Zuten, Shibui groups this print with an untitled series of twelve okubi-e featuring famous courtesans, with only eight designs recorded, including a small black and white image of this impression (identified by the Blondeau collector seal). The portraits in this Utamaro series have a very similar compositional balance to that of several okubi-e series by artists such as Eisho (fl. ca. 1795-1801) and Eiri (fl. ca. 1795-1800) for the publisher Yamaguchiya Chusuke around the same time period. The only other recorded example of this print is credited to the collection of the Tokyo National Museum in Ukiyo-e Taikei and Ukiyo-e Shuka, however, it is not found in the 1962 illustrated catalogue of the TNM collection or their current online database, and as such, the whereabouts of that impression are unknown.
In the forward to the 1913 auction of Hayashi Tadamasa's collection of Western art, the academic painter Raphaël Collin listed the artist Paul Blondeau as one of the regular attendees, along with Michel Manzi (1849-1915) at the monthly 'Diner Japonais' organized by the art dealer Siegfried Bing in the 1890s to bring together "those worshippers of the art of Nippon who lived in Paris."
Paul Blondeau, Paris (ca. 1860-1920)
Charles Haviland, Paris (1839-1921)
Society for Japanese Art, Westfries Museum in Hoorn, The Netherlands, Collected and Cherished, Japanese Art in Dutch Private Collections 1600-1900; September 2nd - October 22, 2000
Hotel Drouot, Paris, Collection Ch.Haviland: Estampes Japonaises, Premier Partie, sold November 27-29, 1922, lot no. 311
Kiyoshi Shibui, Ukiyo-e Zuten: Utamaro, 1964, Vol. 13, p. 72
De Becker, The Nightless City, 1905, p. 84
Raphaël Collin, Tadamasa Hayashi: Some Recollections, 1913
Japanese Prints Collection of Frederic E. Church, Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc, New York, 1946, no. 41, illus. (current location unknown)
Ukiyo-e Taikei, vol. 5, 1975, no. 230 (Tokyo National Museum)
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, listed p. 243, no. 409.1 (Tokyo National Museum)
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 15, 1980, p. 197, no. 52, (Tokyo National Museum)
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