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Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1724-70
Three Evenings: Illustration to a Poem by Jakuren Hoshi
a young beauty wearing a furisode ('swinging sleeves') kimono and holding a long tobacco pipe pauses to adjust her hair comb as she stands before a large lobed window looking out onto a landscape of distant hills dotted with trees beyond a body of water; unsigned with two seals, Josei Sanjin and Kyosen-no-in; ca. 1765
chuban tate-e 11 by 7 7/8 in., 28 by 20 cm
This print is the center panel of a rare and early triptych illustrating themes from a grouping of poems known as the Poems of the Three Evenings (Sanseki no uta). The poem alluded to is by Jakuren Hoshi (?-1202):
sono iro to shi mo
maki tatsu yama no
aki no yugure
Solitude here is
such that I cannot even say
what color it is--
where black firs grow on the hills,
alone in the autumn twilight
The landscapes seen through a window on each panel of the triptych are based on a page from the first volume of Ehon Yamoto hiji published circa 1735-42 with illustrations by Harunobu's predecessor (and likely teacher), Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750).
The two seals on this print belonged to the poet Kyosen (born Okubo Tadanobu, 1722-77), the founder of the influential Kyosen Renchu arts society who are largely credited with funding Harunobu's earliest nishiki-e (full color 'brocade' prints). Kyosen's father and grandfather both served as Commissioners of Finance and as such, enjoyed a generous stipend from the shogun which would have provided the family with an unusual combination of both political and financial prominence among the Edo elite. Kyosen inherited his father's estate in 1752 and joined the Edo Castle guard as a hatamoto (bannerman) in 1755 where he served in the Nishi-no-maru (Western compound), the residence of the future Shogun Tokugawa Ieharu (1736-86). By 1763 Kyosen had left the castle guard, but he did not retire from his official service until ten years later.
The first seal, Josei Sanjin, is Kyosen's haimei (haikai pen name), which translates as 'Recluse from West of the Castle'- a reference to both Kyosen's residence in the neighborhood of Ushigome, located on the Western side of Edo, and his former position in the Western compound at Edo castle. A year after Kyosen resigned from the guard, the Shogun Ieharu had the state celestial observatory moved to Waradana in Kyosen's Ushigome district and the new era Meiwa was declared in the 6th month. The official observatory was an important institution because it set the long and short months of the lunar calendar year, and with it an office was established for the approval of calendars by the Tenmonkata (State Astronomer).
Waterhouse theorizes that Kyosen's close proximity physically to the observatory and politically to the Shogun would have made it easy for him to bypass the authorities with the production of the innovative full-color egoyomi (prints with the long and short months hidden in the composition) which would have been exchanged at private gatherings. The second seal Kyosen-no-in (seal of Kyosen), indicates the Kyosen Renchu privately commissioned this original edition of the triptych which was likely originally produced as an egoyomi in Meiwa 2 (1765).
Only five other impressions of this center panel are recorded in Waterhouse (all apparently without the Kyosen seals). An impression of the right-hand sheet of the triptych illustrated in the Chiba City Museum of Art exhibition catalogue bears the same two Kyosen seals, as does an impression of the left-hand sheet in the collection of the British Museum.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Suzuki Harunobu, 2006, p. 57, cat. 44 (left sheet with seals)
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013, Vol. I, pp. 18-19 (on Kyosen); p. 48, cat. no. 11 (poem and translation); p. 77, cat. no. 70 (on print)
The British Museum (britishmuseum.org), accession no. 1930,0510,0.3 (right sheet with seals)