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Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867)
Standing Geisha Holding a Hand Mirror
hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, mounted on brocade; signed Kikukawa Eizan hitsu with two artist's seals, Kikukawa and Toshinobu, ca. 1818-30
overall: 69 1/2 by 19 7/8 in., 176.5 by 50.5 cm
painting 36 by 12 in., 93.8 by 32.6 cm
A standing geisha pauses to look in a hand mirror and gently wipe her cheek with a white cloth. Geisha are professional entertainers identified by comparatively restrained coiffure and clothing. The large black box behind her holds her shamisen—the instrument most closely associated with geisha. Her subdued dark green kimono is tastefully decorated with stylized turtles swimming in meandering waves along the hem, but she nods to fashion and business of attraction with the ornately decorated under-layers of her clothing in alluring pinks and reds which are revealed at her collar and the opening at her feet. As she pauses to compose herself before her next performance, her attention is inward and private as she gazes into her hand-held mirror.
The subject of this painting compares closely with one of a pair of paintings by Eizan in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Boston work depicts a beauty in nearly the identical pose and configuration of clothing, although without the shamisen box and with her garments more lavishly embellished she is identified as a courtesan. Indeed, both paintings could depict beauties engaged in either occupation: in the late Edo Period (1600-1868) the roles (and visual cues) that defined and differentiated a courtesan from a geisha were increasingly ambiguous. Courtesans were highly trained in the arts and were frequently accomplished musicians; and geisha were able to arrange assignations and patronage (with 'benefits') with their customers. The iconography used by ukiyo-e artists to portray geisha and courtesans was similar, particularly by the 1820s, a period when geisha were approaching the height of popularity and were eclipsing high-ranking courtesans as arbiters of fashion and style.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston & Kodansha, Ukiyo-e Paintings: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2000, vol. III, pl. 54 (accession no. 11.7977)