Kobayashi Kiyochika pair of paintings

Kobayashi Kiyochika scroll detail

Kobayashi Kiyochika, (1847-1915)

Tale of Genji: Chapter 3, Utsusemi (The Shell of the Cicada)

pair of hanging scrolls, ink and color on silk; each signed Kiyochika with artist's seal Kiyo, ca. 1910

painting: 41 3/4 by 6 1/8 in., 106 by 15.5 cm
overall: 75 3/4 by 9 1/4 in., 192.5 by 23.5 cm

In this early chapter from Genji Monogatari ('The Tale of Genji'), the Guards Captain Genji continues to pursue Utsusemi ('Shell of the Locust'), the young wife of the much older governor of Kii who Genji had taken and seduced in the previous chapter. Keenly aware that Genji was well above her station, Utsusemi spurns his subsequent attempts to see her and ignores his letters of affection. One evening on his third attempt to visit, he secretly watches Utsusemi playing go with her stepdaughter. When the two ladies prepare to retire to bed, Utsusemi sense something is not right and quickly leaves the room, slipping beyond his grasp.

Much of the Tale of Genji is devoted to the romantic adventures of the young prince while navigating the political and social obstacles of the Imperial court. At this point of the story he is only seventeen, but his encounter with Utsusemi, a woman below his rank, has opened his eyes to see possibilities and opportunities among women of differing classes. As there were strict rules separating women and men in the courts, Genji's romances often began with only hearing about a great beauty, followed by stolen glances and clandestine correspondences. It is no wonder that when two 'lovers' finally meet passions quickly escalate.

The narrow constraints of this diptych, with Genji on the left and Utsusemi with her stepdaughter and the go board on the right, cleverly mimics the cropped view Genji would have had while peering into the room to secretly watch the object of his affections.

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