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Scholten Japanese Art Gallery
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Utagawa Kuniyoshi Kaji of Gion

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1797-1861

Mirror of Women of Wisdom and Courage: Kaji of Gion
(Kenyu fujo kagami: Kaji no Gion)

signed Ichiryusai Kuniyoshi ga, with artist's red hat seal, Tanaka censor seal, and publisher's seal of Takahashiya Takakichi (Bun'eido of Ichigaya), ca. 1843

oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 1/8 in., 37.2 by 25.8 cm

This series presents famous women from history or present day along with an associated flower as viewed within a roundel of a circular mirror. In this case, Gion Kaji (or Kajijo- Lady of the Mulberry Leaf) was the owner of the Matsuya tea house located south of the gate to Gion Shrine (now known as Yasaka Shrine) in Kyoto. She was was renowned for her poetry and in 1707 the Edo poet Miyazaki Ameishi (d. 1758) published a collection of her waka poems in the volume, Kaji no ha, with illustrations by the Kyoto textile designer Miyazaki Yuzen (d. 1758). She was reputedly a niece of the Rinpa school painter Ogata Korin (1658-1716), although that may be an apocryphal embellishment that evolved from her association with the Kyoto artistic milieu. In this portrait set within a round mirror, Kuniyoshi presents Kaji paired with the kikyo (bell flower)- a favorite subject of the Rinpa artists.

References:
B. W. Robinson, Kuniyoshi, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1961, p. 44-45, appendix table F, no. 92
B. W. Robinson, Kuniyoshi: The Warrior Prints, 1982, pp. 119-120
Stephen Addiss in Flowering in the Shadows: Women in the History of Chinese and Japanese Painting, 1990, p. 236 (on Kaji)
Amy Reigle Newland, Heroes & Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861, p. 120, no. 114
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.15968

$1,900