Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)


Naniwa Shinmachi: Tayu Courtesan Suminoe of the Western House Ogiya
(Naniwa shinmachi: Nishi no Ogiya nai Suminoe Tayu)

titled below the Ogi (folded fan), Naniwa Shinmachi: Nishi no Ogiya nai Suminoe Tayu, the words above the figure ends with the last row, Edo Ryutei Tanehiko dai (written by Ryutei Tanehiko in Edo), Toto (Eastern Capital) Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), publisher's seal Sen'ichi han (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), ca. 1821

oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/4 in., 38.1 by 26.1 cm

The young tayu (highest ranking courtesan) Suminoe is seated beside a folding screen on her volumnious bedding while holding a large and lavishly adorned tobacco pipe of a type used by men. A longer and more elegant pipe more suited for a woman rests on a tray with a small brazier. The folding fan (ogi- the name of her house) in the upper right corner is marked Nishi ('west'- a reference to Naniwa, or Osaka), and the inset cartouche depicts a party with entertainers at teahouse set in a garden. The height of her multiple layers of futon which would have been gift by a patron confirm her popularity, while the text above, written by Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842), affirms that "no one will forget her passion." Tanehiko would later ensure his own fame when the publisher Tsuruya Kiemon began issuing his serialized novel, A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasake Inaka Genji) from 1829-1842.

In order to keep up production throughout Kunisada's long and prolific career, he by frequently and by necessity borrowed compositional elements from his own (or his studio's) work. While this print was issued by the long-standing publishing house of Kansendo, it is quite rare and perhaps the only known design for this unrecorded series which is not listed in Marks' compendium, Schaap's selected series checklist, or The Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) Project (www.kunisada.de). The unusual signature on this print, Toto (lit. 'Eastern Capital' or Edo) Kunisada ga, establishes that while the theme may be beauties of Naniwa (Osaka), the artist is Edokko (lit. 'child of Edo'). Kunisada revisited the concept for another (smaller) publisher, Iseya Rihei of Kinjudo, apparently in the same year. For the Kinjudo series, Pictorial Gatherings of Remarkable Women of the Floating World (Ukiyo meijo zue), Kunisada expanded the theme beyond Osaka to other cities, and he simplifies the compositions by enlarging the folding fan and rotating it vertically to contain the accompanying landscape cartouche. One of the designs from the series, Tayu of Shinmachi District in Osaka (Tayu Naniwa Shinmachi) relates even more directly, depicting a seated beauty placed in a very similar setting, surrounded by her layers of bedding and framed by the backside of the folded screen in the left foreground. She leans to her right in a similar pose holding folded tissues to her mouth. This beauty is a bit more saucy with her splayed feet peeking out from her kimono which is opening slightly to reveal her red under robe and an exposed leg, while a lit tobacco pipe emits smoke curling dangerously near the hem. The small brazier on the tray holds burning incense with its trail of smoke wafting upwards and a feminine tobacco pipe rests beside it. In both compositions the direction of her attention and the presence of two tobacco pipes indicates an unseen lover (or customer) behind the folding screen.

Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, p. 161-162, no. 152, on Iseya Rihei; and pp. 170-177, entry 180 on Izumiya Ichibei
Ota Memorial Museum of Art, Utagawa Kunisada: 150th Anniversary of His Death, 2014, p. 85, no. 88 (Tayu of Shinmachi District in Osaka)
Robert Schaap, Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty, 2016, p. 44, no. 8 (courtesan's name read as Edayu)
Collection National Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden, Coll. no. 1-4472-189
(inv. no. 10-5077)

price: $3,800

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

Daio of Shinmachi District in Osaka, 1821, Ota Memorial Museum


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