The Courtesan Chozan of the Chojiya in Edo-machi Nichome
(Chozan, Edomachi nichome, Chojiya)
signed Kikugawa Eizan hitsu, with publisher's closed box seal I (Sanoya Kihei of Kikakudo), ca. 1806-08
aiban tate-e 13 3/8 by 9 1/2 in., 34 by 24 cm
A half-length portrait of a courtesan bundled up in multiple layers of robes holding an unfurled role of paper with her inked brush tip poised to compose a letter or poem. Her hair is adorned with an array of pins and combs, finished off with a gathering of pink fabric behind the high crest of the coiffure. In the background a folded fan displays her name, Chozan, and in the upper left the address and name of her house, Edomachi nichome, Chojiya.
Although depictions of known persons such as kabuki actors or famous teahouse waitresses may not have been portraits in the Western sense of realism, they did by necessity, capture a recognizable, albeit stylized, likeness of their subject which would be all the more appealing and saleable to ardent kabuki fans seeking images of their favorite actors and mementos of exciting performances. Depictions of female subjects, with the possible exception of famous teahouse waitresses, were another matter. While images of famous courtesans were fashion plates and an important part of the ukiyo-e market, the Yoshiwara itself was beyond the reach for most of the male populace (and off limits to women except on certain holidays). Images of courtesans were more about the idea of beauty and the suggestion of an other-worldly fantasy than the souvenir of an actual experience. As such, artists were not obliged to capture an individual courtesan's likeness, and would often amend earlier compositions with an updated hairstyle or kimono pattern and simply change the courtesan's name without making any adjustments to the facial features. Adding to the ambiguity, professional courtesan names were associated with specific brothels and would be handed down to newcomers in a manner similar to kabuki names, further obscuring the identities of individual women.
Bearing this obfuscation in mind, a comparison with a depiction of Chozan of the Chojiya by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) from an untitled series of courtesans on fans (MFA, Boston) suggests a likeness with this portrait by Eizan. Although Utamaro's portrait is not dated, stylistically it appears to have been produced late in his career, around circa. 1805-06, only a few years earlier than this Eizan portrait (those years may account for her slightly fuller face and the hint of a double chin). However, it is unclear if the likeness is to Chozan herself, or the similarity may be simply a reflection of Eizan's following of Utamaro's style.
Eiko Kondo, ed., Eizan, Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, 1996, p. 56, no. 47
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 216492 (Utamaro portrait of Chozan)
Gabrielle H. Grunebaum, Dobbs Ferry, New York (1910-2004)
(inv. no. 10-2171)
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