fl. ca. 1780-1810
Woman and Servant in Snow
(Sechu sho shiki jo)
light silver mica ground of falling snowflakes with applied layer of gofun snow on top of her umbrella and the servant’s hat, this impression unsigned and without censor or publisher seals, published by Tsutaya Juzaburo, ca. 1790
oban tate-e 14 1/2 by 9 7/8 in., 36.8 by 25.2 cm
Choki was thought to have studied with the painter Toriyama Sekien (1712-1788) along with Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). He had an unusual history with his go (art name): he first used the name Shiko until changing it to Choki in the early 1780s, switching back to Shiko between about 1796 and 1801, before reverting back to Choki again during his final years. He mostly designed images of beauties but he also produced a small number of actor prints, bird and flower subjects, and several illustrated books. His primary publisher was Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797), with whom he was known to have lived for a period.
This print is from an untitled group of four half-length portraits of beauties presented in a dramatic outdoor setting that are among the most reproduced and coveted works in all of the ukiyo-e genre. The designs are distinctive in the way that Choki positions the figure off to the side, only occupying roughly two-thirds of the composition. In this print we see a beauty pausing beneath an open umbrella which shields her from the fat flakes of falling snow, shimmering (or shivering) against a cold mica background. She leans on the back of her burly servant who is bending over, reaching beyond the frame of the composition to clean the clumps of heavy wet snow off of her geta. Although they are a study in contrasts, she is lovely and delicate, he is solid with rough whiskers on his face, Choki conveys a sense of quiet intimacy shared between the two.
One of the hallmarks of the 'golden age' or ukiyo-e was the sudden vogue for lavish printing in the 1790s, particularly a trend for mica ground prints. Printing with mica (or any metallic printing) was expensive and tricky, requiring considerable investment from the publisher and skillful handling of the blocks by the printers. One variable with printing with mica was that the typical publication details such as titles, signatures and publisher seals which would normally have been incorporated into the keyblock would often be added separately after the mica was applied. As a result, it is not unusual for the placement of the signature and seals to vary, or not infrequently, left off the print altogether. It is thought that extant impressions, without the publishing details, represent a second edition. Of the five recorded extant impressions of this print, two are lacking the artist's signature and publisher's seal, which as it turns out, is arguably an aesthetic improvement overall.
Edwin Grabhorn, San Francisco (1889-1968)
Harold P. Stern, Master Prints of Japan: Ukiyo-e Hanga, 1969, pp. 252-253, no. 135
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 10, 1980, p. 159, no. 165 (Grabhorn)
Vignier & Inada, Estampes Japonaises: Yeishi, Choki, Hokusai, 1913, no. 107, pl. XXXVII (Mme. P. Girod)
James A. Michener, Japanese Prints from The Early Masters To The Moderns, 1959, p. 160, no. 174 (with signature and seals)
Margaret Gentles, Masters of the Japanese Prints: Moronobu to Utamaro, 1964, pp. 146-148, no. 87 (Michener)
Ukiyo-e Taikei, vol. 6, 1975, no. 23 (Tokyo National Museum, with signature and seals)
Tadashi Kobayashi, Edo Beauties in Ukiyo-e: The James A. Michener Collection, 1994, p. 130, no. 127
Honolulu Academy of Arts, ex James A. Michener Collection, Straus-Negbaur Collection (first edition with signature and seals)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.14217 (second edition)
Tokyo National Museum, ex Matsukata Collection, accession no. A-10569-624
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