1762 - ca. 1830
Courtesans Matching with Sumo Wrestlers: Takigawa from the House of Ogiya, kamuro Onami and Menami
(Yukun sumo awase: Ogiya nai, Takigawa Onami, Menami)
signed Shunsen ga, with censor's seal Kiwame (approved) date seal U-san (year of the hare , 3rd month), and publisher's seal Mi (Mikawaya Seiemon), 1807
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 3/8 in., 39.2 by 26.4 cm
The courtesan Takigawa and one of her kamuro (either Onami or Menami, as recorded in the upper left), model their gorgeous clothing from a mitate (parody) series presenting courtesans as though matched with sumo wrestlers. The seated Takigawa looks to her left and holds the edge of her uchikake (formal coat) as it slips off her shoulder. The deep black outer robe decorated with bright pink peonies opens over her knees to reveal an underrobe with a pattern of green bamboo leaves over brown stalks. One of her two purple inner robes has an overlapping rope pattern, the other a subtle stylized chidori (plover) pattern at the bottom. Her yoko-hyogo hairstyle resembling butterfly wings is embellished with numerous hairpins confirming she is courtesan of the highest rank.
Her kamuro (adolescent apprentice), wears a furisode (lit. 'swinging sleeves) kimono decorated with scrolling golden waves over purple seigaiha (stylized waves) and a large yellow obi with a green circular pattern tied at the back. The wave motif is particularly appropriate as the names Onami and Menami can be translated as 'big wave' and 'shallow wave.' Her kimono is adorned with rose-colored fusa (tassels) in the manner of a traditional uniform for a gyoji (sumo referee) and she holds a colorful gunbai (war fan) of the type used by gyoji to signal their decisions during a bout. While courtesans kept their feet bare, this kamuro is allowed the comfort of tabi socks, traditional element of the uniform for a gyoji of a certain rank.
The series title cartouche in the upper right corner is cleverly designed in the shape of a sumo wrestling arena, with its distinctive ring defined by four pillars and canopy above. Of all the myriad of tropes that beauties have been likened to in ukiyo-e, comparing courtesans to sumo wrestlers may be one of the more obscure. Perhaps the space occupied by the courtesan's voluminous robes which fill the composition is similar to the girth of a sumo wrestler, and like a victorious competitor, we may regard Takigawa as a 'champion' of her arena of beauty and style.
(inv. no. 10-5443)
detail (center sheet)
detail (left sheet)
detail (right sheet)
Fashionable Ide Yamabuki
(Furyu Ide Yamabuki)
signed Eizan hitsu, with publisher's seal Sen'ichi han (Izumiya Ichibei, Kansendo), censor's seal Kiwame (approved), ca.1809-14
oban tate-e triptych 14 7/8 by 29 3/4 in., 37.9 by 75.7 cm
Although the title identifies the subject as a view of fashionable ladies and blooming yamabuki (mountain roses) flourishing along the banks of the Ide River, idiosyncratic elements to their stylish ensembles, such as wearing male courtier caps, indicate this is a mitate (parody). The combination of the central figure on horseback accompanied by attendants carrying male accoutrements including shoes, a sword, and a rolled up tent, suggest the poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880 AD) and his episode known as Azuma kudari (journey to the East) during a period of disillusionment as retold in the Tale of Ise (Ise Monagatari).
As each sheet of multi-panel woodblock print was often designed to be appreciated individually as well as assembled, they are by their very nature vulnerable to being separated from each other (either by accident or intent), and it is particularly unusual for triptychs from this period (or earlier) to survive intact and with excellent color. That said, the hint of a lone horse hoof in the lower right corner of the left sheet raises the possibility that this grouping was originally comprised of more panels, likely a pentaptych. However, thus far we were unable to locate any of these three sheets or any other designs that might be associated with this composition.
(inv. no. 10-5451)
detail (right sheet)
detail (center sheet)
detail (left sheet)
The Debut of a New Geisha
(Geisha hatsudashi zu)
each sheet signed Toyokuni ga, with publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Tobei, Kinkodo), with censor's seal kiwame (approved), ca. 1810s
oban tate-e triptych 14 7/8 by 29 5/8 in., 37.8 by 75.4 cm
An intimate view of three beauties getting ready for a special event: The Debut of a New Geisha (Geisha hatsudashi zu). In the center sheet we see the star of the show, a lithe young geisha stands modeling her outfit, an understated mauve brown kosode of with waterbirds over a pattern of swirling waves below the knees and the hem padded lightly with a green fabric decorated with a delicate white floral pattern. The subtle robe is offset with a large brocade obi decorated with white camellia blossoms over a black scrolling motif against a red (oxidized iron) ground. She is twisting her torso as though to check the complex bow tied towards the back and ask her friend seated to her right: 'does this look okay? Her companion turns to her in response while drying her neck with a towel. Seated at her kyodai (dressing table), she is further behind in her preparations for the evening. Her hair undone and she has not bothered to completely close her thin dressing gown of pale grey decorated with a pattern of grasses over white resist butterflies. On the opposite side a third geisha, who is dressed and ready to go, sits relaxing on a cloth-covered box or trunk while cleaning her teeth with a toothpick. Wearing a chic black kosode decorated with a pattern of pine needles, ginko and maple leaves at the hem paired with a lattice-patterned obi of somber hues and accessorized with a purse and netsuke in the form a circling dragon, she exudes an air of authority and experience and seems to regard the young geisha with approval.
Unlike most images of floating world beauties, Toyokuni explicitly identifies these ladies as geisha, professional entertainers, not to be confused with courtesans, who were professional prostitutes. By 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 similar to geisha in that they were trained in the arts and were frequently accomplished musicians; and geisha could choose to arrange assignations and patronage (with 'benefits') with their customers. As such, ukiyo-e artists frequently blurred the distinction between the two, 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. The subdued hues of the kosode and obi worn by the women in this composition reflect the influence of the iki (chic) style of restrained elegance popularized by geisha and embraced by merchant-class women of Edo.
(inv. no. 10-5452)
Lantern Festival at Yoshiwara in Autumn: Masanagi of Tamaya
(Seiro no shutoro zu: Tamaya uchi Masanagi)
signed Eizan hitsu, publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Tobei, Kikodo), with gyoji (publisher's guild) seal Moriji (Moriya Jihei) and censor's seal kiwame (approved), ca. 1811-14
oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/8 in., 38.2 by 25.7 cm
The courtesan Masanagi of the famous Tamaya house casually leans against the railing of a second-story verandah while striking a pose emphasizing the enormous bow of her front-tied obi with a black and yellow koushi (lattice) pattern suggesting a bamboo fence contrasted against a luxe aubergine ground. Apparently uninterested in the evening's entertainments, she faces away from a group of dancers performing a suzume odori (sparrow dance) in the background as they parade below during the lantern festival in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. Her gobaishi (a charcoal grey achieved from gallnut) kosode is decorated with a white kanzemizu (swirling water) and bamboo leaf motif. Her first underrobe is pink with a white takewaku (rising steam) pattern, and a white and yellow checkered pattern on the collar of her innermost robe echoes the yellow squares on the grid pattern of her obi.
The somber colors of her outer layers, somewhat restrained for a courtesan, contrast with the decadent beni-red at the collar, wrists and hem, in a manner approaching the ethos of iki--an aesthetic of understated elegance embraced by stylish women that was associated with certain trendy neighborhoods in Edo by the early 19th century. Loosely translated as chic, defining (and achieving) iki then, and now, may be as elusive as defining (and achieving) 'cool' in popular culture of our own time.
Originally the left sheet a triptych, the complete triptych found in the collection of the Ota Memorial Museum of Art illustrate her companions, Fujiwara of the Tsuruya house seated in the center sheet; and Sugatano of Sugata-Ebiya house standing to the right.
Ota Memorial Museum of Art (www.ukiyoe-ota-muse.jp), Kikugawa Eizan: 150th Death Anniversary Special Exhibition, 2017 [2nd term] December 1st-20th, catalogue no. 142 (triptych)
inv. no. 10-5580)
Courtesan Okiku (detail left sheet)
Courtesan Toyooka (detail center sheet)
Courtesan Sagawa (detail right sheet)
Toyooka of Okamoto House flanked by Sagawa and Okiku of Sanotsuchi House
(Okamotoya uchi Toyooka, Sanotsuchiya uchi Okiku, Sanotsuchiya uchi Sagawa)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with publisher's seal Sen'ichi (Izumiya Ichibei, Kansendo), and censor's seal kiwame (approved), and umanome (lit 'horse eye') Ball collector's seal, ca. 1818-24
oban tate-e triptych 15 1/8 by 31 1/8 in., 38.4 by 79 cm
Woodblock prints of this type, depicting courtesans and their young attendants on parade, were the ultimate fashion plates, promoting at once the ranking courtesans of the well-appointed Yoshiwara 'green houses' (brothels), as well as their elaborate fashions. Courtesans flaunted over-the-top ensembles with decadent layers of patterns and colors designed for maximum impact. Encountering a beauty in her full regalia en route to an assignation would have been a dazzling experience, one which artists captured in prints and paintings with meticulous attention to their gorgeous textiles and hairstyles. Although the company of a courtesan may not have been within reach of most, for the price of a bowl of noodles, one could own a printed image of these other-wordly visions, which would have an influence on changing fashions.
The courtesan Toyooka of the Okamoto House parades with her kamuro showing a nearly frontal view of her multiple layers of kimono dominated by large peonies on her black uchikake (formal coat) with yellow butterflies on the padded purple hem, complimented by the large knot of her purple obi decorated with a dragon pattern. The multiple folds of her blue kimono with gold stylized waves opens to reveal a beni-dyed undergarment with a pattern of white nadeshiko (carnations). A kamuro (adolescent attendant) to her right wears a purple furisode (swinging sleeves) kimono, and the hair ornaments of her second kamuro are barely visible to her left. She is flanked on either side by courtesans from the Sanotsuchi House. On the left sheet the courtesan Okiku displays the front of her similar black uchikake with decorated with large chrysanthemums and tasseled pillows ringing the green padded hem. Her inner kimono are decorated with a blue and white pattern of karabana (Chinese flower) within a hexagonal lattice, which is replicated on the next layer in blue on blue. Her two kamuro both wear matching hair ornaments and blue kimono with brown obi. The right sheet illustrates the courtesan Sagawa turning away from our view in order to best show off her impressive peach colored uchikake featuring blossoming cherry branches and a peacock with its elaborate train of feathers trailing down the length of the coat and spilling over the border onto the red and pink sayagata (interlocking 'manji') edging. The padded hems of her inner kimono are decorated with floral roundels over a blue ground with a white fundo-tsunagi (traditional weight measure) pattern, the pattern repeated in reverse on the next layer with blue fundo-tsunagi on a white ground. One kamuro wearing a blue kimono follows, the hair ornaments of the second are barely visible just past Sagawa's dramatic black obi decorated with blue plum blossoms over narrow band of gold tatewaku (rising steam).
Many ukiyo-e artists produced these 'courtesans on parade' prints, typically adhering to a set formula depicting a static composition of an idealized beauty displaying layers of clothing with their names and houses identified on each sheet and minimal background. The standardized configuration simplified their sale as single sheet prints that could readily be aligned as multi-panel prints according to the purchaser's preferences, as is the case with these three beauties. In the period from circa 1815 through the mid-1830s the format changed very little, and publishers frequently revised designs with updated fashions and/or names in order to reissue designs years later, furthering the use of the original blocks. As such, dating surviving prints of this type can be challenging, at best.
Ball Collection, sold, Butterfield & Butterfield, San Francisco, circa 1980
Adachi City Museum, ref. no. 683, (later aizuri-e of Sagawa, with same background and added series title, Asakusa yamanojuku karitaku)
National Diet Museum, acc no. 2-5-1-2 (Ayahata from the same series, with same background)
Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, object no. RV-1327-299 (Sagawa, with different coloration and without background); and object no. RV-1327-300 (Ayahata, from the same series, without background)
(inv. no. 10-5578)
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)
A Tokaido Board Game of Courtesans, Yoshiwara Parody of the Fifty-three Pairings: Hakone, Uryuno of Okamotoya
(Keisei dochu sugoroku, mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu: Hakone, Okamoto nai Uryuno)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, the series title within the black cartouche, Keisei dochu sugoroku, and to the right of the pictoral cartouche, Mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu, the print title inscribed within the frame, Hakone, with the courtesan identified below, Okamotoya nai Uryuno, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), ca. 1821-23
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 1/4 in., 38.9 by 26.1 cm
The courtesan Uryuno of the Okamotoya house models an indo-ai (Indian indigo) uchikake (formal coat) standing near a fusuma panel painted with fronds of bamboo. The deep blue of the fabric gradually lightens towards the lower half decorated with autumnal vines and a rooster perched on a war drum, an image emblematic of a time of peace. The collars of her inner layers of clothing and the padded hems alternate with diagonal koshi (lattice) geometric motifs and beni-dyed (rose red from safflower) resist patterns. Her obi is decorated with dark and light green karakusa (scrolling vine) roundels over pink sayagata (interlocking Buddhist 'manji' character) on a black ground and edged with beni and brown fabric with yellow (possibly embroidered gold) cherry blossoms. Her yoko-hyogo hairstyle with two coiffed sections resembles the open wings of a butterfly, together with a full array of hair ornaments confirms she is a high-ranking Yoshiwara courtesan.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 193, no. 227
(inv. no. 10-5075)
Eisen, Ishibe, Miyoshino of the Tsuruya, ca. 1821-23
Eisen, The Wife's Habit of Wanting to Wear Something as Soon as She Looks at It, ca. 1820s
kakuremino (cloak of invisibility, a treasure of the Lucky Gods)
Hours of the Yoshiwara: The Hour of the Rooster, Sixth Hour of Twilight
(Yoshiwara tokei: Tori no koku, kure mutsu)
titled at the upper right, Yoshiwara tokei: Tori no koku, kure mutsu, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), signed Gototei Kunisada ga, and publisher's seal Kichi (Enomotoya Kichibei of Hoeido), ca. 1818-20
oban tate-e 15 1/4 by 10 1/8 in., 38.7 by 25.7 cm
A lavishly attired courtesan powders her nose in front of a black lacquer kyodai (mirror stand). Her inner purple and rose colored underrobes have floral designs, and her perfectly coiffed hair is embellished with numerous gold lacquer hair ornaments. Kunisada focuses our attention on her ornate blue uchikake (formal coat) spreading out behind her like a carpet and decorated with a distinctive shima (striped) pattern with alternating bands of purple stylized clouds and gold karakusa (scrolling vines) linked with tassels that are suggestive of kakuremino (cloak of invisibility, a treasure of the Lucky Gods). This unusual pattern may have had a moment in circa 1820 as it is also found on two print designs by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), the first worn by another courtesan similarly draped from her shoulders, and a slightly later print portraying a young wife contemplating a similar fabric for use as an obi (a more sensible use of an expensive material).
In the pictoral cartouche above we see a vignette of a young woman holding a shamisen while standing beside a man ringing a bell at the entrance to a teahouse or restaurant. Identified by the series title and appropriately appointed with luxurious clothing and acoutrements, Eisen presents a behind-the-scenes view of the makings of a high-style courtesan of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. A packet of Bien Senjoko face powder is situated in the foreground in an early example of product placement, associating this paragon of beauty with the popular make-up.
Robert Schaap, Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty, 2016, p. 42, no. 4 ('The hour of thr ox, eighth hour of the night'- another print from this series) The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), accession no. 11.29901
(inv. no. 10-5074)
Kunisada, The Hour of the Rooster, Sixth Hour of Twilight, ca. 1818-20
Eisen, The Wife's Habit of Wanting to Wear Something as Soon as She Looks at It, ca. 1820s
kakuremino (cloak of invisibility, a treasure of the Lucky Gods)
A Tokaido Board Game of Courtesans, Yoshiwara Parody of the Fifty-three Pairings: Ishibe, Miyoshino of the Tsuruya
(Keisei dochu sugoroku, mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu: Ishibe, Tsuruya nai Miyoshino)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, the series title within the black cartouche, Keisei dochu sugoroku, and to left, Mitate yoshiwara gojusan tsu, with the courtesan identified, Tsuruya nai Miyoshino, the inset landscape titled Ishibe within the frame, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), ca. 1821-23
oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 in., 37 by 25.3 cm
The courtesan Miyoshino of the famous Tsuruya house in Yoshiwara sits with her head tilted down and her chin resting in her left hand supporting her head, perhaps additionally burdened by the array of ornaments in her hair, while reading an open book resting on her lap. Her layers of kimono contrast colors and patterns in a manner that only a ranking courtesan could pull off. Narrow dark and light green stripes with stylized roundels at her knees and at her collars are layered with beni-dyed kanoko (fawn spots) forming a hemp leaf pattern known as Hanshiro-kanoko, named for the beautiful kabuki actor, Iwai Hanshiro V (1776-1847), who wore it for a costume portraying the tragic greengrocer's daughter Oshichi in 1809. A purple and indigo striped obi embellished with circular leaping koi (carp) is tied at the front with the long tail-ends spilling out over her lap. Wide stripes are echoed in dark and light green on the hem of the uchikake (formal coat) draped over her shoulders which is decorated with a distinctive pattern of alternating silver and gold bands of karakusa (scrolling vines) linked with tassles that may represent kakuremino (cloak of invisibility, a treasure of the Lucky Gods). Although decked-out in all her finery and ready to host a patron, perhaps the uchikake worn as a cloak and empowered with the kakuremino has afforded Miyoshino this rare private moment of study and contemplation.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 207, no. 268
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.17945
(inv. no. 10-5275)
Kunisada, The Hour of the Rooster, Sixth Hour of Twilight, ca. 1818-20
Eisen, Ishibe, Miyoshino of the Tsuruya, ca. 1821-23
kakuremino (cloak of invisibility, a treasure of the Lucky Gods)
Forty-Eight Traits in the Floating World: The Wife's Habit of Wanting to Wear Something as Soon as She Looks at It
(Ukiyo yonjuhachi kuse: Miru to kitagaru wa nyubo no kuse)
signed Keisai Eisen ga with artist's seal Sen, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's seal Sa (Otaya Sakichi of Kinrindo), ca. 1820s
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
A beauty wearing an understated kimono decorated with an indigo hishi (water caltrop plant) pattern paired with a complimentary shima (striped) obi tied at the back stands while intensely contemplating a partially unrolled bolt of fabric with a unique linear pattern of alternating bands of teal, red, and blue decorated with gold karakusa (scrollling vines) lined with tassels that may represent kakuremino (the cloak of invisibility, a treasure of the Lucky Gods). This pattern seems to have been popular with courtesans in circa 1820 as there are designs by both Eisen and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) that feature the distinctive motif used to great effect on uchikake (formal coats) worn by women of the Yoshiwara. Here the partially visible label hanging upside down near her waist reads: Obiji (obi fabric), a far more sensible use of what was likely an expensive material. Without specific dates on the prints it is difficult to determine definitively who wore it first, courtesans or fashion-conscious townswomen, but you could surmise that the courtesans wore it most, utilizing the fabric for lavish uchikake.
At her bare feet are additional rolls labeled from right to left, Oatsurae obiji (obi frabric by request), Ayaori (twill), and the top bolt on a pile of folded cloth reads Hontsuge (announcing first sale). The print title identifies her rank in society as a married woman (confirmed by her shaved eyebrows), possibly a junior member of a household, as well as her predicament, a weakness for the newest fashions: The Wife's Habit of Wanting to Wear Something as soon as She Looks at It.
A signboard in the upper left landscape cartouche announces a kaicho (lit. 'opening the curtain'), a public exhibition of religious objects not normally on view at a Buddhist temple, usually accompanied by outdoor entertainments. No doubt the excitement of attending the fair-like atmosphere of the kaicho only fuels her desire to update her wardrobe for the event.
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, p. 61, no.35 (series)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), accession no. 11.25605
(inv. no. 10-5354)
Three Dry-Goods Stores of the Eastern Capital: Matsuzaka-ya
(Toto gofukuya sanpukutsui: Matsuzaka-ya)
signed Keisai Eisen ga with artist's seal Sen, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), with publisher's seal Waka (Wakasaya Yoichi of Jakurindo), ca. 1821
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.7 by 25.4 cm
As indicated by the series title in the upper left corner, Three Dry-Goods Stores of the Eastern Capital (Toto gofukuya sanpukutsui), this print is from a group of featuring three prominent kimono dealers of Edo, including Ebisu-ya, Hotei-ya and in this case, Matsuzaka-ya, its blue fabric noren-shaped banner in the upper right corner with the shop logo, daki wakamatsu (pine sprigs) encircling the mon (crest), maru ni tate futatsu hiki (circle with two vertical lines).
The fashionable young beauty stands erect with a broad bangasa (complimentary rental or loan umbrella) tipped jauntily over her shoulder and emblazoned with the Matsuzaka-ya name, logo and bango (item number, 13-?-?). The shape of her arm and outline of her underrobes are barely visible through the slightly diaphanous fabric of her lightweight katabira (summer kimono). She carries a folded purse, accessorized with a flower-shaped netsuke, tucked securely beneath the wide folds of her white and blue checked obi which contrasts nicely against the subtle purplish-blue (acheived by combining indigo and safflower) and white yagasuri (arrow fletching) pattern of her ikat kimono. She holds her hem off the ground, revealing a glimpse of her ankles, perhaps to avoid puddles remaining from a passing shower, and a section of hair has escaped her neat coiffure and curls at her temple, succumbing the summer heat and humidity.
To the right, a tanka poem (with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format) extolls the virtues of the Matsuzaka-ya, which was located in Shinbashi.
Chiyo mo kawaranu
Senshoku iro mo
unchanging for eons
weaves textile colors
I am Shinkyo
(possibly Kokontei Shinkyo, from a family of Rakugo entertainers)
Eisen frequently worked in collaboration with vendors marketing make-up, textiles and clothing. During a period of diminished productivity, the publisher, who likely retained the original blocks, adapted the same three figures for a triptych titled Modern Beauties: View of Takanawa, which promoted three Edo restaurants. The assembled composition was revised by updating their clothing and adding an aizuri-e (all blue print) landscape in the background, a savvy improvement in response to the sudden popularity the Prussian blue (beru) dye which became widely available in circa 1830 and sparked a trend for prints and clothing utilizing the blue pigment.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 218, no. 286 (later triptych with aizuri-e background); and p. 293; Eisen Nishiki-e Index, no. 352-3
(inv. no. 10-5356)
beauty holding umbrella in snow
vertical oban diptych signed Keisai Eisen ga, with archaic seal (possibly the publisher's) partially visible on her black obi, ca. 1818-30
kakemono-e 29 by 9 5/8 in., 73.8 by 24.5 cm
On a snowy evening, a geisha shields herself with an umbrella while carefully navigating a slippery path. Her ensemble reflects the influence of iki (chic) style of reserved elegance. The kosode, decorated with a simple striped ikat pattern, contrasts with an inner robe of yellow maple leaves and cherry blossoms on a green ground, and a rose-colored undergarment with a white collar with a creped geometric pattern. A dramatic wide black obi crisscrosses over her waist with the ends trailing behind her, and her hair is arranged with comparatively few ornaments. She holds the hem of her robes out of the snow, revealing inner layers of clothing and her black lacquer geta worn with bare feet in the style associated with geisha from the Fukagawa district.
Unlike standard oban-sized prints which could be viewed individually and perhaps collected in an album, vertical diptychs, or kakemono-e (lit. 'hanging picture') were designed to be hung on a wall or within a tokonoma (alcove reserved for displaying art), thereby mimicking the scale and impact of painted hanging scroll but available at a much more accessible price for the average consumer. Often already mounted as hanging scrolls by the publishers, kakemono-e such as this diptych by Eisen is the visual equivalent of a pin-up of a beautiful woman and a fashion poster at the same time. However, because they were displayed and rarely preserved in albums, kakemono-e were vulnerable to the vestiges of time and extant impressions with any preservation of color are rare.
Madame Butterfly's World: Woodblock Prints of a Changing Japan, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, June 21 - September 21, 2014
(inv. no. 10-3649)
Eight Views of Women: Twilight Snow in the Sky over the River
(Shujo hakkei: Koten bosetsu)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's tomo-e mark (Nishimuraya Yohachi of Eijudo), ca. 1818-21
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
A teenage girl squirms while trying to fend off a playful hug from a younger girl bending over her shoulder who has reached under her kimono to tickle her. Interrupted from writing a letter, her suzuribako (inkstone box) is open in the foreground and a brush rests beside a partially unfurled correspondence. She wears a subtle grey kimono decorated with sprays of pampas grass over a pattern of white butterflies, and a pink obi with a white geometric pattern and black edging. The fabric of her kimono is remarkably similar to that of a geisha depicted at her toilette in a triptych by Kunisada's teacher, Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), which was likely published slightly earlier than this print. As geisha were considered the height of chic by the 1820s, this young woman appears to be following the latest fashion trends and Kunisada is 'on point' with the most up-to-date styles.
The theme of 'eight views' was adapted from a classical Chinese landscape grouping of 'Eight Views of the Hsiao and the Hsiang.' The Japanese landscape version, Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Lake Biwa [Omi]), is a collection of eight famous views from the scenic area around Lake Biwa, which were frequently likened to beauties or employed in mitate-e (parody prints). While context of the landscape views were set with poetic references: Night Rain, Evening Bell, Autumn Moon, Returning Sails, Wild Geese Descending, and the subject of this print, Evening Snow, the specific locations were ever-changing as suited the needs of the artist (or poet). In this early bijin series by Kunisdada, the Omi Hakkei theme is alluded to with the series title of Shujo Hakkei (Eight Views of Women), loosely associating the images beauties with the landscape found within the Toshidama-shaped cartouche.
Kunisada Exhibition, The Seikado Book Library, 1996, pp. 28-29, nos. 15-18 (four prints from the same series)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.42866
(inv. no. 10-5358)
signed Oju Kunisada ga, publisher's seal Waka (Wakasaya Yoichi of Jakurindo), censor's seal kiwame, ca. 1822
oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 9 7/8 in., 37.4 by 25.2 cm
A young woman seated before a dresser gazes into a small hand mirror while expertly positioning a larger mirror behind her head in order to check her Shimada-style coiffure. She wears a light blue dressing gown decorated with dark blue geese in flight over her kimono decorated with an auspicious motif of roundels of minogame (turtles of longevity) and Takarabune (treasure ship of the Lucky Gods) contrasting with a rose-colored underrobe with a floral cherry blossom pattern. Her collars are pulled open at the neckline to facilitate fixing her hair and make-up, and the outer-wrapper of a packet in the foreground is recognizable as that of Bien Senjoko face powder, a frequent sponsor of beauty prints by Kunisada and his contemporaries.
The series title, Seven Episodes of Komachi of the Yoshiwara (Yoshiwara nana Komachi), refers to a group of seven Noh plays portraying apocryphal incidents in the life of Ono no Komachi (ca. 825-900), one of the Six Immortal Poets (Rokkasen). The print title, Sekidera Komachi, is the name of the play written by Zeami Motokiyo (1363- 1443) which portrays the lonely poetess at the end of her life. In the play, through a conversation with the priest of the Sekidera Temple, Komachi expresses her deep regret of her vanity and the prideful scorn she displayed towards the many would-be suitors of her youth.
Kunisada appears to have found inspiration for this design in a print designed by his teacher, Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825), which was published in circa 1820. The earlier print (an impression of which is in the collection of the British Museum) promotes a sponsor in a similar inset circular cartouche, Matsuzakaya dry goods shop (a prominent purveyor of kimono), and features a beauty wearing a kimono with a very similar pattern of white geese in flight on dark blue ground.
Robert Schaap, Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty, 2016, p. 52, no. 19 ('Parrot Komachi'- another print from this series)
British Museum, registration no. 1948,0410,0.101
(inv. no. 10-4609)
Seven Komachi in the Floating World: Komachi on the Way
(Ukiyo nana komachi: Kayoi komachi)
signed Eisen ga with artist's seal Sen, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's seal Waka (Wakasaya Yoichi of Jakurindo), 1820s
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.7 by 25.4 cm
The series title, Seven Komachi of the Floating World (Ukiyo nana komachi), presents beautifully attired women while alluding to the classical grouping of seven episodes from the life of Ono no Komachi (ca. 825-900). One of the Six Immortal Poets, Komachi was renowned for her poetry skills and great beauty, as well as regretable scorn towards any would-be suitors in her youth. A collection of seven legendary episodes from her life, the Nanakomachi, were a favorite theme in plays and ukiyo-e images. The title of this print, Komachi on the Way (Kayoi komachi), refers to an episode from a famous No play written by Zeami (1363-1443) in which one of her lovers, Fukakusa, depicted in the cartouche at upper left, 'on the way in a boat,' although unseen beneath the umbrella, struggles to keep a rendezvous with Komachi.
Eisen subtly alludes to the beautiful Komachi's youthful pride in her expression which seems almost directed at Fukakusa himself over her right shoulder. She stands in dishabille, her clothing loosely secured by her arms crossed at her waist. Her kimono is decorated with a subtle gradation of purple from her shoulders to very pale grey at the hem where black tortoises symbolizing longevity swim over a pattern of white swirling water. Her black obi with a gold geometric sayagata (interlocking 'manji') pattern has dropped to the ground along with a green and white ikat sash and rose kanoko (fawn spot) sash for her under-robes.
Four of designs from this series are recorded, Soshiarai Komachi (Komachi Washing the Manuscript), Amagoi Komachi (Komachi Praying for Rain), Kayoi Komachi (Komachi On the Way), and Sotoba Komachi (Komachi at the Gravepost.)
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 292; Eisen Nishiki-e Index, no. 325-3
(inv. no. 10-5355)
Thirty-Two Physiognomic Types in the Modern World: The Popular Type
(Tosei sanjuni so: Hayari so)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga with artist's Matsukawabishi with Toshidama seal, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's seal Ju (Nishinomiya Shinroku of Gangetsudo and Shunshoken), ca. 1821-22
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
A woman holding a black lacquer mirror case in one hand and a make-up brush in the other, carefully smudges her eyebrow make-up with her pinky finger. She wears an indigo blue katabira (lightweight summer kimono) decorated with a profusion of white cherry blossoms and kanoko (fawn spots) on the beni-dyed red lining loosely tied with a black obi. The weather must be warm as she has pushed her sleeves up above her elbow and the neckline is open wide to try to keep cool. Her a hair is simply coiffed with only one silver hairpin adorned with an attached ornament in the shape of a dragonfly. The clarity of her exposed skin is emphasized by the pink background.
The series title, Thirty-Two Physiognomic Types in the Modern World (Tosei sanjuni so), references the Buddhist belief that thirty-two physical traits distinguished the Buddha as an enlightened being. A similar concept was embraced in the practice of physiognomy (sogaku or soho), the study of divining a person's fortune or character based on facial features and/or palm reading. In c. 1792-93, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) presented two overlapping series organizing a smaller group of ten characteristics of women: Ten Types in the Physiognomic Study of Women (Fujin sogaku juttai), and Ten Classes of Women's Physiognomy (Fujo ninso juppan). This series by Kunisada follows a similar format, while the title indicates thirty-two types, a total of ten prints were produced, presenting half-length portraits of a variety of women of different ages, lasses, and professions, all against a pink background. Each type is identified in the cartouche in the shape of a magnifying glass as were used by professional physiognomists (somi), in addition to this Popular Type (who may be a popular geisha), Kunisada presented: The Capable Type, The Competitive Type, The Clever Type, The Theater-Loving Type, The In-Demand Type, The Playful Type, The Daughter of a High-Ranking Family, The Type That Attracts Clients from Edo, and the Conclusive Type.
Shugo Asano and Timothy Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, text vol., pp. 100-103, cat. nos. 56-64 (Utamaro's 'Ten Types' series)
Kunisada Exhibition, The Seikado Book Library, 1996, pp. 45-47, nos. 59-64 (six prints from the same series) Utagawa Kunisada: 150th Anniversary of His Death, Ota Memorial Museum of Art, 2014, p. 88, no. 96
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), accession no. 34.490
(inv. no. 10-5351)
Twelve Views of Modern Beauties: The Amused Type, Sumida River
(Imayo Bijin Junikei: Omoshiroso, Sumidagawa)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with artist's red circular seal Sen, published by Izumiya Ichibei ca. 1822-23
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 3/4 in., 36.5 by 24.8 cm
A geisha wears a koushi (plaid) kosode of white and purple stripes over a soft brown ground. She has excitedly pushed the sleeves above her elbows and tucked a plectrum under her arm in order to participate in a rowdy game of jankenpon (rock/paper/scissors), in some variations of which the loser was obliged to remove an article of clothing. The landscape cartouche in the shape of an unrolled handscroll illustrates a view of boats on the Sumida River near the entrance to the Mimeguri Shrine.
Amy Reigle Newland, ed., The Ear Catches the Eye: Music in Japanese Prints, 2000, p. 171, no. 131
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, pp. 128-129 (series)
(inv. no. 10-0281)
Eight Favorite Things in the Modern World: Kensake
(Tosei kobutsu hakkei: Kenzake)
signed at lower left, Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal Kiwame and publisher's seal Senichi (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), and signed again in area of blue inner-collar, Keisai, with artist's seal Sen, ca. 1823
oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 in., 37.2 by 25.4 cm
This series of bijin bust portraits likens beauties of various ages to their 'favorite things' that reflect their social positions. Based on the subtle attire of this woman modeling her mastery of the iki style of restrained elegance, she is very likely a geisha of the trendy Fukagawa district. Her understated black kimono bearing three eboshi ni aoimon (crest of wild ginger and courtier's hat) contrasts against the collars of her inner kimono, with green matsuba (pine needles) on a pinkish brown ground, and layered over a rose kanoko (fawn spot) underrobe with a crisp blue collar decorated with sprigs of pale pink cherry blossoms and the artist's signature and seal. The combination of eboshi, aoimon and cherry blossoms suggests a sophisticated reference to the Aoi chapter of the Tale of Genji. The geometric motifs within the bands of her striped obi crisscross at her waist where she tucks her hand in front of a bundle of folded tissues while glancing downward to her right. Her hairstyle is adorned with few ornaments, far from the array that a Yoshiwara courtesan would display, but she finished her look with one flashy detail: the application of iridescent green sasabeni ('bamboo rouge' derived from safflower) on her lower lip. The vogue for iridescent lips, achieved with multiple applications of the expensive beni, came into fashion in the late 18th century, and Eisen frequently illustrated the 'retro' embellishment on bust portraits of women in the 1820s (including even the adolescent girls portrayed in this series), it would seem the 'retro' look was back in style.
In the upper left corner of this print we see a red lacquer sake cup identified with the print title, Kenzake (a hand game in which the loser is obliged to drink) resting against a green fukuro (wallet or tobacco pouch) with a pattern of yellow kame (turtles), and a metal cherry blossom netsuke attached with triple-length chains. As a professional entertainer, it was the responsibility of a geisha to host her client and see that his tobacco accoutrements were at the ready, his sake cup remained full, and ensure general merriment for all.
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, p. 69, no. 40
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), accession no. 11.25612
(inv. no. 10-5352)
Eight Favorite Things in the Modern World: Theater
(Tosei kobutsu hakkei: Shibai)
a beauty holding a battledore and shuttlecock, at the upper left is a folded kabuki program, the multi-colored cover decorated with a crest, beneath it is a narrow white folded flyer titled Shin-yakusha-zuke ('New Actors'); signed Keisai Eisen ga with artist's seal Sen, published by Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo, ca. 1823
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 1/2 in., 39.1 by 26.7 cm
The hairstyle and colorful attire of this beauty identify her as adolescent, and her well-appointed ensemble suggests she is either the daughter of a family with means, or a shinzo (teenage apprentice courtesan). She wears iridescent green sasabeni ('bamboo rouge' derived from safflower), a trendy but expensive embellishment for a young lady. Her kimono is decorated with a light blue and lavender pattern of kanzemizu (swirling water), the collar dark green with an asupicioius motif white kame (turtles, symbolizing longevity). Her inner robe is beni-dyed with flowers and zigzaging matsukawa-bishi (lit. 'pine bark diamond'). The young beauty coyly holds a shuttlecock near her chin and angles a battledore paddle to rest on her shoulder for use in a game (similar to badminton) that was traditionally played at the New Year.
The kabuki materials at the upper left corner relate to theater advertisements which would have been released a few months earlier. The crest decorating the folded program is probably that of the Nakamura Theater, one of the major theaters in Edo. It rests on a folded playbill which would have been published by the theater shortly before the Kaomise, the annual eleventh-month production featuring the actors, playwrights and musicians of the company engaged for the upcoming season.
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, pp. 68-69 (series)
(inv. no. 10-0285)
Eight Favorite Things in the Modern World: Dolls
(Tosei kobutsu hakkei: Ningyo)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's mark Senichi (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), ca. 1823
oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 in., 37.1 by 25.4 cm
This series, which likens beauties to their 'favorite things,' depicts women and teenaged girls in association with objects that reflect personal interests or passions. In this case, in the upper left corner the hina doll contained within a storage box signed with the name of a well-known hina doll-maker, Shugetsu saku (Hara Shugetsu II of Asakusa) resonates with this beauty's beloved, a doll she holds in her hands while examining it closely. The girl's hairstyle, with the pink fabric tied in a bow in the front and securing her coiffure in the back, indicates she is a shinzo (apprentice courtesan), with the fresh face of one in her early teens. Her apparent delight in the object of her affection further confirms her young age, and Eisen dresses her appropriately in a youthful palette of rose and aubergine. Her kimono features a pattern of scattered momiji (maple leaves) and matsuba (pine needles) over a beni-dyed innerrobe with a resist pattern of cherry blossoms, contrasted with a light blue and black shima (striped) obi.
Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2012, pp. 68-69 (series)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), gift of Porter Sargent, accession no. 49.1737
(inv. no. 10-5353)
Mirror of Famous Ukiyo-e Artists: Picture by Okamura Masanobu
(Meihitsu ukiyo-e kagami: Tanchosai Okumura Bunkaku Masanobu hitsu)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame and publisher's mark Jin (Maruya Jinpachi of Enjudo), ca. 1825
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 10 in., 36.6 by 25.3 cm
A teenaged girl seated before a kyodai (vanity) stares into the mirror while concentrating at applying her eyebrow makeup. Her kimono is decorated with a wax-resist pattern of horse and cherry blossoms on a purple ground, contrasting with white bamboo leaves on a pink ground, and her light blue inner kimono has a geometric uroko (fish scale) motif. In the open cabinet we see various beauty products including a coil of the binding used in hairstyling. Her own coiffure adorned with several ornaments and rose-colored bows indicates that of a young woman, perhaps not yet adept in the application of her makeup. A lacquer pillow and cushion rest on her folded futon bedding in the background, and in the foreground there is a packet of Bien Senjoko face powder, whose owner, Mr. Sakamoto, frequently arranged such product placements in woodblock prints featuring bijin or kabuki actors. The cosmetic powder was named after Senjo, the poetry name of the actor Segawa Kikunojo III (1751-1810), a kabuki actor revered for his portrayals of female roles.
This print is one of nine known designs from a bijin series based on a theme celebrating early ukiyo-e artists. Each print includes a hanging scroll in the background illustrating a beauty identified with relevant artist's signature. In this composition the hanging scroll depicts a walking courtesan (identified by the large knot of her obi tied in the front) signed by the great ukiyo-e master, Okamura Masanobu (d. 1764). Other known prints from the series acknowledge the work of important ukiyo-e artists including Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650), Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694), Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790), and Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792).
Mathew Welch & Yukio Kimura-Tilford, Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2011, p. 247, no. 208 (on Mr. Sakamoto and Bien Senjoko)
Murata Takako, Komda Makiko, trans., Fashion and Make-up of Edo Beauties Seen in Ukiyo-e Prints, 2018, pp. 12-13, no. 12
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bigelow Collection, accession number 11.30449
(inv. no. 10-5227)
Iwai Shijaku as the Strong woman Arajishi Danriki
(Onna Chikaramochi Arajishi Danriki)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga with censor's seal Kiwame and publisher's mark Kyu (Yamamotoya Heikichi of Eikyudo), ca. 1820s
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
This print illustrates the beautiful onnagata Iwai Shijaku I (Hanshiro VII, 1804-1845) in a role identified as the strong woman Arajishi Danriki. She wears a kosode with blue and white ikat plaid misuji-koushi (lit. 'three striped lattice') highlighted with dark green where the stripes cross and a dark green hem with white koushi (lattice). The obi of grey and black plaid on a rose-red ground and gold embroidery along the edges is knotted at the back. Her costume is accessorized with male accoutrements, with a red lacquer inro (stacked boxes) suspended at her hip and a long sword tucked into the obi. She stands eagerly pushing up the sleeves of her kimono as though preparing for a tussle.
Checkered, plaid or lattice patterns, collectively known as koushi (also koshi or -goushi) were very popular for all genders and purposes. Named for latticework typically used for room dividers, the grid motif was associated with strength; the larger the stripes, the greater the power.
Beloved actors were tastemakers, inspiring fashion and beauty trends by what they wore on and off stage. Even the way artists such as Kunisada depicted their faces had an influence on concepts of idealized beauty. Shijaku I, and his brother Iwai Hanshiro VI (1799-1836), were known for their open expressions with wide eyes and slight underbite, features that are occaisonally found on prints depicting female beauties.
Waseda University Theatre Museum, ref. no. 002-1384
(inv. no. 10-5365)
Modern Hairline Shaped Like Mt. Fuji: Night Hawk
(Tosei fujibitai: Yotaka)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's seal of Sen'ichi han (Izumiya Ichibei, Kansendo), 1825-30
oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 1/4 in., 37 by 26 cm
A beauty standing beside a black fence and lantern, above, two bats in flight confirm that it is the evening. Turning away from a breeze pulling at her headwrap, she looks over her shoulder as though responding to a call. She wears a beautiful yukata (lightweight cotton kimono) with an indigo blue pattern of karakusa (scrolling vines) and peonies and a loosely tied black obi. The sleeves are pushed up past her elbows and the neckline is pulled open to reveal a flash of skin. Her pink underrobe is visible edging the collar and a layer of light blue lining blows away from her legs exposing her feet and ankles. She holds the flaps of her robe closed with her left hand, and her right hand grips a folded paper umbrella which will provide a modicum of privacy if needed.
This print is from a rather scarce series of which only five designs are recorded. The series title, Tosei fujibitai (Modern Hairline Shaped Like Mt. Fuji), refers to a hairline that grows to a point in the middle of a forehead, known as a widow's peak in English. True to form, Eisen portrays women from all walks of life, in this case, unabashedly identifying the woman as a yotaka (night hawk), a slang term for an unlicensed low-class prostitute. The koma-e (pictorial cartouche) shows an attendant carrying a chochin (lantern) lighting the way for a figure with his face discreetly concealed under his ho-kaburi (lit. 'cheek covering'). The pair approach a bridge beside a willow tree, identifying the location as Yanagibashi, a neighborhood associated with unlicensed entertainments. Of the four other listed designs from the series, two have proven elusive for comparison, Chaya (Teahouse) and Tegami wo yomu Bijin (Beauty Reading a Letter), while the other two, Chozubachi (Wash Basin) and Sanbashi (Wharf), also illustrate women wearing loosely secured clothing, suggesting a similar line of work.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 79, cat. no. 59; Eisen Nishiki-e Index, p. 282, no. 35, 1-5 (other known designs)
(inv. no. 10-5434)
Collection of Otsu-e: Chokaro's Horse
(Otsu-e tsukushi: Chokaro)
signed Konomi ni ojite Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame, and publisher's mark Hayashi (Iseya Rihei of Kinjudo), ca. 1827
oban tate-e 15 1/8 by 10 1/8 in., 38.5 by 25.7 cm
A barefoot bijin stands near the edge of a verandah as she exits a woman's bath house, its entrance for working women designated by the blue banner in the background which reads jochu (maid). She holds her geta (thonged platform sandals) in one hand and lifts the skirts of her clothing in another. Her loosely secured layers of clothing display a variety of contrasting patterns: the pale grey outer kimono with brown and blue plaid misuji-koushi (three striped lattice) displays umemon (plum crests) on her back and sleeve (likely the crest of her employer); the middle kimono is decorated with a green and yellow shippo (overlapping circles); and her brown obi features a pattern fundo-tsunagi (named for the shape of traditional weight measures). She holds between her teeth the edge of a blue and white tenugui (towel) draped over her shoulder, and carries a blue and white yukata (cotton kimono) bundled under her arm, likely in preparation to return it to an attendant at the entrance.
This print is from a series pairing beauties with popular subjects depicted in the lively folk paintings produced in the village of Otsu. The image in the upper right cartouche is that of Chokaro's Horse. According to legend, the Sennin (Chinese sage) Chokaro carried gourd from which he could magically summon his horse at will.
William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 11.43105
A Pocket Mirror of Beauties- Six Immortal Poets of the Era: Ariwara no Narihira
(Bijin kaichu kagami- Jisei rokkassen: Ariwara no Narihira)
signed Keisai Eisen, with publisher's seal Senichi (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), ca. 1826-28
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
A high ranking-courtesan strikes a pose while looking over her shoulder. She wears a kimono the color of green tea over a beni-dyed robe with white kanoko (fawn spots), with an unusual repetition of pattern of scattered maple leaves on the collars of both. Another inner robe has a collar with a sophisticated pattern of plum blossoms over geometric sayagata (interlocked 'manji') suggestive of blue and white porcelain. Her hair is adorned with gold lacquer ornaments, and she wears iridescent green sasabeni ('bamboo rouge' from safflower) on her lower lip. The vogue for iridescent lips, achieved with multiple applications of the expensive beni, came into fashion in the late 18th century, and Eisen frequently illustrated the 'retro' embellishment on bust portraits of women in the 1820s (as in, 'what's old is new again').
While the title, Rokkasen, refers to the classic grouping of six 'immortal' (or great) waka poets of the 9th/10th centuries, in this context it would be understood as a collection of six renowned beauties of the moment. The maple leaves on the oiran's collar identify the subject as compared to the immortal poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880 A.D.), and thought to be the hero of the Tale of Ise. One the most famous verses from the tale references maple leaves.
Kamiyo mo kikazu
Mizu kukuru to wa
Even in the age
Of the mighty gods-
These deep crimson splashes
Dyed in Tatsuta's waters
-Tale of Ise, verse no. 106
Helen Craig McCullough, trans., Tale of Ise: Lyrical Episodes from the Tenth Century Japan, Stamford University Press, 1968, p. 141
Jyuzou Suzuki, Meihinsen Ukiyo-e, Gyousei, 1991, Vol. VII, p. 158
(inv. no. 10-5350)
Karaori of the Daimonjiya
(Daimonjiya nai Karaori)
signed Kuniyasu ga, with censor's seal Kiwame (approved) and publisher's seal Matsu (Matsumura Tatsuemon), ca. 1829
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.7 by 25.4 cm
The courtesan Karaori sits on a padded bench in front of a bamboo fence with blossoming cherry trees against a blue sky in the background. She is insulated from the crisp spring air under voluminous layers of clothing that billow around her in flat planes of patterns and colors. Her outer-kimono is black on the upper half with the white kikkoumon crest of her house on the sleeve, and the lower half draped behind her on the bench has a gold and blue rope pattern on the outside with muted purple and white kanzemizu (swirling water) toward the hem on the inner-lining. Her obi is tied at the front, as was the custom for a courtesan, and decorated with a geometric motif featuring the flower crest of the Daimonjiya house within a hexagonal grid known as kikko (suggestive of tortoiseshell). The long brocade panels part over her knees which are draped with a pink inner robe with a white shibori (resist dyed) star pattern known as Hanshiro-kanoko (made popular by the kabuki actor Iwai Hanshiro V, 1776-1847), parting to reveal additional folds of another layer of fabric (likely an expensive cotton imported from India) decorated with a complex circular Buddhist eight spoke dharma (wheel of law) pattern on a green ground. She holds an unusual long porcelain tobacco pipe decorated with a blue scrolling pattern, and her elaborate yoko-hyogo hairstyle resembling the parted wings of a buttefly secured with numerous hairpins and combs confirms her position as a ranking courtesan and style icon.
Originally the right sheet of a triptych, Karaori was accompanied by her fellow-ranking courtesan colleagues with Yosooi of the Matsubaya house in the middle sheet and Shirahara of the Tamaya house on the left sheet. Examples of the left and center sheet are found in the collection of the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, holds an impression of the center sheet and an impression of this image (shown together as a possible diptych) of the beautiful Karaori.
Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, object nos. RV-360-2353a-1 (left sheet: Shiraito) and RV-360-2353b-1 (center sheet: Yosooi) no. 1883-01-01 (another sheet from triptych)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession nos. 11.16093 (left sheet); 11.16106 (this design)
(inv. no. 10-5362)
Modern World: Chiyo's Enjoyment
(Tosei: Chiyo no tanoshimi)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with censor's seal Kiwame (approved) and publisher's seal Cho, Shiba Shin Aritaya (Aritaya Seiemon of Yueido), mid 1830s
oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 in., 37.3 by 25.4 cm
A weary beauty sits slumped against a post on the corner of a verandah with her legs pulled up towards her chest as her kimono falls slightly open below her knees. White petals of a weeping cherry tree visible against the darkening night sky set the season as late spring. The evening is warm as she has pushed her sleeves up past her elbows. She drapes one arm over her knees, gripping a packet of tissues and dangling a long tobacco pipe, while wiping her brow with the other hand. Her indigo-dyed kimono is decorated with an intricate circular pattern of overlapping stylized temari balls and the collars of her inner-robes alternate with black, brown and white striped, red, and a blue and white keyfret pattern. Her black obi is decorated an archaic seal on the hem and the edge and underside is lined with a brown fabric decorated with a scrolling floral motif.
This print is from a scarce series likening modern beauties to the popular female poet, Kaga no Chiyo (Fukuda Chiyo-ni, 1703-1775). Only one other design from this series has been located in the collection of Waseda University depicting a teenage girl playing with a toddler. The series title, Tosei, within the Toshidama-shaped cartouche is reminiscent of an earlier Kunisada bijin series published by Shimizu in the 1820s with two versions of the series title, Jisei usugesho, and Tosei usugesho, which can be translated as Light Makeup of Present Times, and Light Makeup in the Modern Style, respectively. Artists frequently used the term 'Tosei' (lit. modern) in the titles of their prints, associating their designs as representing the most up-to-date styles.
Andreas Marks, Publisher's of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, p. 99 (this series); p. 236 (1820s series)
Waseda University, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, no. 201-1935 (another print from this series)
(inv. no. 10-5357)
Famous Views of Edo and Beauties Compared: Sumida River
(Edo meisho bijin awase: Sumidagawa)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), and publisher's seal Sanoki (Sanoya Kihei of Kikakudo), ca 1830s
oban tate-e 14 1/8 by 9 3/8 in., 35.8 by 23.7 cm
A young waitress wearing a brown and white plaid misuji-koushi (lit. 'three striped checkered') pattern kosode stands with her body facing away and looking over her shoulder while reaching behind her back to tie her striking double-sided obi, with black on one side contrasting with an indigo pattern of stylized turtles on the other. The edge of the sash is marked with archaic form kanji: Imayo bi-? (modern-?) in red, and with the artist's seal Sen in yellow. Two trays are at her feet, one with a teapot, four porcelain teacups and a bowl of snacks, the other with a bundle covered with blue cloth decorated with various actor's crests. The inset cartouche illustrates buildings and boats along the Sumida River edged by stylized clouds.
The combination of restrained patterns and subtle colors of her clothing reflect the influential tastes of the geisha and waitresses who worked in the fashionable entertainment district of Fukagawa, with the recreational area along the Sumida River nearby. An earlier bust portrait from ca. 1822-23 by Eisen from the series Twelve Views of Modern Beauties (Imayo bijin junikei), illustrates a playful geisha who he also associates with the Sumida River, The Amused Type (Omoshiroso, Sumidagawa), wearing a similar plaid kosode.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 285, cat. no. 148-7
(inv. no. 10-4568)
A Guide to Modern Restaurants: Horaiya at Ueno Kuromonmae
(Tose ryori-tsu: Ueno Kuromonmae Horaiya)
the series title at the upper left, Tose ryori-tsu: Ueno Kuromonmae Horaiya, signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), followed by the publisher's seal Sano kichi (Sanoya Kihei, Kinkakudo), ca. 1830s
oban tate-e 15 1/8 by 10 1/4 in., 38.5 by 26.1 cm
In his role as arbiter of current fashions, Eisen presented ensembles for woman of all social classes and pursuits. Here a rather casual waitress makes an attempt to put her hair in order, while the kimono open at her neck and loosely tied obi at her waist await her attention as well. Her lilac kosode is decorated with a pattern of white and green blossoms, and her blue apron features white and dark blue pine needles with blue and rust colored maple leaves. A pink sash decorated with a white shibori (resist dyed) star pattern known as Hanshiro-kanoko (made popular by the kabuki actor Iwai Hanshiro V, 1776-1847) is tied jauntily at her hip overlapping with the black obi which is decorated with seal of the print publisher, Sano kichi han, with the proclamation, Ooatari (lit. 'big hit').
This print is from a series promoting restaurants from various neighborhoods in Edo, each depicted within a landscape cartouche framed with a decorative lacquer border. The title to her right identifies the Horaiya restaurant as located at the front of the Kuromon (black gate) at Ueno Hill, an area that belonged to the Kan'ei-ji temple complex. In the inset composition, we see a view of the shrine dedicated to the goddess Benten located on an island (Benten-jima) at the center of the Shinobazu pond in Ueno.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 154, no. 179
(inv. no. 10-5169)
Comparisons of Modern Beauties: The Seven Autumn Flowers
(Imayo bijin awase: Aki no nana ka)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with publisher's diamond-shaped seal Waka (Wakasaya Yoichi), and censor's seal Kiwame (approved), ca. 1838
obaiban tate-e 14 by 9 1/4 in., 35.7 by 23.4 cm
This print is from an obscure series of which only two other designs are recorded, Hatsu Hototogisu (First Cuckoo) and Kuruwa no Hana (Flower of The Pleasure Quarters) both of which seem to suggest associations with the seasons. The series illustrates everyday fashions, in this case, a teahouse waitress, wearing an apron to protect her modest kimono, pauses beside an outdoor bench with flowering autumnal grasses.
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, p. 292; Eisen Nishiki-e Index, nos. 323-1, 323-2 (other known designs)
Minneapolis Institute of Art (collections.artsmia.org), accession no. P.70.93
Tokyo Metropolitan Library (archive.library.metro.tokyo.lg.jp), accession no. 07684-C1-1 (same series)
(inv. no. 10-5590)
active ca. 1818-50
Five Scenes of the Eastern Capital: Ueno
(Toto gokei no uchi: Ueno)
signed Gokitei Sadafusa ga, with publisher's seal Kawacho (Kawaguchiya Chozo), censor's seal Kiwame (approved), 1830s
oban tate-e 15 by 10 3/8 in., 38 by 26.5 cm
A beauty wearing a natty blue and black checkered short coat draws our attention to a bolt of yellow and green striped fabric which she holds aloft while looking over her shoulder towards a small pile of additional reams of cloth. Perhaps a textile shop salesgirl or seamstress, she pairs the haori-type jacket usually worn by men with a double-layerd obi which is black on one side and green with a decorative band of yellow and blue 'cracked ice' on the other. The Benkei-koushi pattern on her coat, formed by overlapping horizontal and vertical lines of equal widths, is named after Benkei, a popular kabuki hero known for his strength. In one of the most famous kabuki scenes in the play The Subscription List (Kanjincho), Benkei traditonally wears a plaid kosode beneath a black vest, or haori with a similar striped pattern as seen on the kosode worn by this beauty. Her layers of clothing are appropriate for the cold weather suggested by the inset circular cartouche with a snow-covered landscape of the hilly area of Ueno printed in the trendy monotone palette of an aizuri-e (lit. 'blue print').
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 17.3213.17 (similar Sadafusa print published by Oden)
(inv. no. 10-5592)
active ca. 1818-50
Famous Scenes of the Eastern Capital: Ochanomizu
(Toto meikei: Ochanomizu)
signed Gokitei Sadafusa ga, with publisher's seal Yokoyama-cho Kikuichi han (Kikuya Ichibei from Yokoyama-cho, Kinkodo), and censor's seal kiwame (approved), 1830's
oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 10 in., 37.6 by 25.5 cm
A stylish beauty pauses to adjust a blue scarf over her hair. She wears an ensemble with a predominately blue palette, pairing an understated blue, green and yellow shima (striped) kosode with a black, grey and blue obi. She epitomizes the restrained elegance of iki-style: contrasting the subdued hues of her outer layers with the rose-colored underrobe visible at her inner-sleeves and an erotic glimpse where the robe parts slighly near her knee.
This series features beauties of the 'Eastern Capital' (Edo) paired with inset landscape cartouches of specific famous places in the city. The area of Ochanomizu (lit. 'tea water') is named for the Kanda River, an aqueduct cut through the Kanda mountain, not, as the name suggests, because the water was unclear, but because its proximity to a well at the Korin-ji temple which was so pure it was known as a preferred source for the shogun's tea.
(inv. no. 10-5591)
Kunisada details: Nakamura Utaemon IV, 1838 (Scholten); Ichimura Takenojo V, ca. 1838-40 (Waseda); Ichikawa Danzo VI, ca. 1856 (MFA, Boston)
Umeyashiki Plum Garden [at Kameido]
each sheet signed Kochoro Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame, publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Tobei of Kinkodo), ca. 1830-35
oban tate-e triptych 14 7/8 by 29 7/8 in., 37.7 by 75.9 cm
Three beauties pass beneath blossoming trees during an evening outing for hanami ('flower viewing'). Red lanterns identify the location in kanji read from right to left, ume-ya-shiki (lit. 'plum mansion'), the scenic Umeyashiki plum gardens at Kameido shrine, a popular destination in early spring. The figure on the right wears a subdued black kosode and purple inner robe with matching butterfly patterns near the hem, paired with a brown obi decorated with circular dragon roundels. She accompanies a younger beauty in the center sheet wearing a youthful purple kimono decorated with chidori (plovers) at the hem and an ornate dark green obi decorated with alternating floral bands. They are followed by figure to the left wearing a reserved dark green kimono with a subtle pattern of grey archaic seals, a simple purple obi with a white resist hanabishi (water chestnut) pattern, and blue sash tied at the hip securing a grey apron with green stripes. She carries a white furoshiki with takekawa (bamboo skin) bundles of food wrapped for a picnic.
Although this rare triptych appears to be an image of beautiful women, their faces have distinctive features in the manner of actor portraits, and each figure is accompanied by text and visual cues referencing specific actors and/or their yago ('house name' or guild). Beloved kabuki actors were tastemakers and style icons of their time, inspiring fashion and beauty trends by what they wore on and off the stage. As true celebrities, they were a frequent subject of woodlblock prints, and due to various government regulations that forbade portraits of actors, fans were accustomed to images that did not explcitly identify individual actors by name. Reading innuendos, clues, and wordplay was integral to kabuki visual culture, and the way that artists such as Kunisada depicted facial features had an influence on changing concepts of idealized beauty for men and women. As such, this print may have been recognizable as portraits of popular actors out on the town (possibly from an unidentified play), or meant to suggest that the beauties represent a 'type' associated with specific actors.
The right sheet is labeled Tosei Miyoshiya fu (Modern Miyoshiya style), referencing the Miyoshiya yago. With a noticeably long face, prominent chin, pointy nose, and wide double-lidded eyes, the features are similar to depictions of Ichikawa Danzo VI (1800-1871), a disciple of the famous Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859) who was able to play male and female roles, including the famous courtesan Akoya (considered one of the most challenging female roles) and who was indeed a member of Miyoshiya yago.
The middle sheet is labeled Tosei Kakitsu fu (Modern Kakitsu style), alluding to Ichimura Takenojo V (1812-1851), also known as Ichimura Kakitsu III in reference to his poetry name, Kakitsu. The mon (crest) on the figure's kimono is a combination of a crane (tsuru) and wild orange, (tachibana), which is also alternate reading of the kanji 'kitsu' and the name of the actor's yago, Tachibana-ya. Portraits consistently depicted the actor, even late into his career, with a sweet, wide-eyed expression and a delicate mouth nearly always hinting at a smile.
The left sheet is labeled Tosei Narikomaya fu (Modern Narikomaya style), referencing the yago Narikomaya. The somewhat severe, long face with pointed nose and underbite is similar to portraits of Nakamura Utaemon IV (1796-1852), a kabuki star who was a talented dancer and able to perform a wide variety of male or female roles. The kageya e uraume ('shadow' or reverse plum) mon on the figure's green kimono is associated with Narikomaya, a yago established by Utaemon.
Andreas Marks, Kunisada's Tokaido: Riddles in Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2013, p. 132, cat. T63-16 (Ichikawa Danzo VI); p. 140, cat. T63-31 (Ichimura Takenojo V); p. 149, cat. T63-39 (Nakamura Utaemon IV)
Kokin Haiyu Nigao Taisen, The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University, 1998, p. 147, no. 71 (Ichikawa Danzo VI); p. 156, no. 99 (Ichimura Takenojo V); p. 192, no. 206 (Nakamura Utaemon IV)
Aubrey S. & Giovanna M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook, 1956, p. 199 (Narikomaya's crest)
kabuki21.com (Ichikawa Danzo VI; Ichimura Takenojo V; Nakamura Utaemon IV)
(inv. no. 10-5385)
detail (left sheet)
detail (center sheet)
detail (right sheet)
Famous Places in the Eastern Capital: Year-End Fair at Asakusa
(Toto meisho: Asakusa toshi no ichi)
each sheet signed Toyokuni ga, with publisher seal Tsuta (Tsutaya Umejiro), censor's seal Aratame (examined) and date seal Tora-uruu-nana (the year of the tiger  intercalary 7th month)
oban tate-e triptych 14 3/8 by 28 5/8 in., 36.5 by 72.6 cm
Three sophisticated beauties holding umbrellas pause on a snowy evening in front of the Hozomon Gate inside the Senso-ji temple grounds in Asakusa. At center a young beauty wearing a furisode (swinging sleeves) kimono suitable for an unmarried teenaged girl turns to look at her companion to her right while gesturing towards the other to her left. With a scarf wrapped around her head and bundled against the cold in voluminous layers, her purplish grey uchikake (formal cloak) decorated with a subtle pattern of pinstripes and stylized waves folds open slightly below the waist to reveal the white and green floral pattern of her underrobe. Her companions wear matching dark blue uchikake with black silk collars, red waist sashes, and black lacquer geta (raised sandals). The right figure lifts up the hem of her kosode decorated with a red and white tatewaku (rising steam) pattern, while the green and white star or floral pattern of the kosode of the figure on the left is only visible at the collar and hem. All three beauties wear tabi socks with their geta to protect their feet from the cold and wet snow.
Behind them we see the inner view of the Hozomon Gate at Senso-ji, with its famous large lanterns just visible over the central beauty's shoulders. As they have passed through the gate, they are facing the main temple, and the iconic five-story pagoda is off to the right, tucked behind the title cartouche in the upper right corner. Snow falls gently against the dark sky, but the grounds are bustling with undeterred revelers and shoppers enjoying the annual year-end fair.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), accession no. 47.37-9
(inv. no. C-3388)
A Pictorial Commentary on One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets: no. 12, Sojo Henjo
(Hyakunin isshu esho: Sojo Henjo)
signed Kunisada aratame Nidai Toyokuni ga (Kunisada changing his name to Toyokuni II) with his Toshidama seal, censor's seal Mura (Murata Sahei), followed by the publisher's seal Sanoki (Sanoya Kihei of Kikakudo), ca. 1844-47
oban tate-e 14 1/4 by 9 7/8 in., 36.1 by 25.2 cm
A young beauty turns to look over her shoulder in the direction of a gust of wind while struggling to hold a blue and white tenugui (towel) with a mame-shibori (bean) pattern over her hair and the flaps of her kimono closed. Her furisode (lit. 'swinging sleeves') kimono is decorated with a striking pattern of large bursts of blue and grey tie-dyed stars at scattered maple leaves on a white ground and layered with a red beni-dyed inner kimono visible at the hem and along the openings of her sleeves billowing around her. At her neckline is a white collar with a yellow fundo-tsunagi (traditional weight measure) pattern, and she wears a green sash with a blue geometric sayagata (interlocking 'manji' character) pattern tied at her hip under her back-knotted double-sided obi of blue flowers on a red ground on one side, and dark blue grey with karakusa (scrolling vines) on the other.
This print is from one of Kunisada's largest and most ambitious bijin series which he issued in two formats during a period of transition when he changed his name from Kunisada to Toyokuni. Inspired by the Ogura Hyakunin isshu ('Ogura [district of Kyoto] One Hundred People, One Poem Each'), an anthology of 100 famous waka poems by 100 famous poets compiled by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241), Kunisada presented beauties paired with images of the famous poets and their poems. For the first 37 designs (plus nos. 47, 78, and 93) published in 1844-45, Kunisada illustrated a title cartouche in the shape of an open scroll and a full-length image of a bijin accompanied by two karuta (cards) for the popular 'concentration' game which utilizes the anthology. The game is played with 200 cards divided into two sets, half are yomifuda (lit. 'reading cards') with an image of the poet with the entire poem (5+7+5+7+7 syllables), the other half were torifuda (lit. 'grabbing cards') with only the last two lines of seven syllables each. A player would read aloud the entire poem from a yomifuda, and the other players compete to grab the corresponding torifuda. While it was not necessary to memorize the poems, sophisticated players were rewarded for their familiarity with the poets and their work.
The poem by Sojo Henjo is presented as the front and back of one torifuda card:
upper card (front):
kumo no kayoiji
lower card (back):
tome no sugata
shiba shiba todo memu
O heavenly breeze,
blow so as to block
their path back through the clouds!
For I would, if but for a moment,
detain these maidens' forms
Joshua S. Mostow, The Hundred Poets Compared, 2007, p. 58 (poem translation)
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), accession nos. 11.42925, 11.15690, 34.366, and 11.15691 (multiple designs from this series)
(inv. no. 10-5190)
One Hundred Beauties from Famous Places in Edo: Hatchobori
(Edo meisho hyakunin bijo: Hatchobori)
signed Toyokuni ga within the artist's Toshidama cartouche, inset landscape cartouche signed Kunihisa ga (Utagawa Kunihisa II, 1832-1891), publisher's seal Tsujiyasu (Tsujiya Yasubei of Kinkaido), censor's seal aratame, date seal Mi-juni (year of the snake , 12th month)
oban tate-e 13 5/8 by 9 3/4 in., 34.6 by 24.9 cm
A beauty seated by a mosquito net grips a packet of tissues in her teeth while using a small comb at the nape of her neck. She wears a lightweight rose-colored kimono with a pink pattern of stylized plum blossoms and hanshiro-ganoko (hemp leaf pattern) which is offset by a blue and white collar of sayagata (interlaced 'manji' characters). To her right is a large blue and white porcelain wash basin filled with water. The woven hemp mosquito net draped beside her conceals her bedding from which she seems to have just emerged.
This composition is from the large, collaborative bijin series Edo meisho hyakunin bijo (One Hundred Beautiful Women at Famous Places in Edo) by Kunisada and a group of his pupils. In this print, the inset landscape cartouche is signed by Utagawa Kunihisa II (1832-1891), a student and eventual son-in-law of the master Kunisada. By the mid-19th century, the Utagawa school was the dominant group of ukiyo-e print designers, and such collaboration within the school was not at all unusual. The view seems to be a bird's eye view from the top of one of the warehouses lining the Hatchobori (Eight-Cho Canal) directly west towards the bamboo yards lining the Kyobashi River.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession nos. 11.15358 and 11.45238
(inv. no. 10-4725)
One Hundred Beauties from Famous Places in Edo: Naito Shinjuku
(Edo meisho hyakunin bijo: Naito Shinjuku)
signed Toyokuni ga within the artist's toshidama cartouche, and signed Kunihisa (Utagawa Kunihisa II, 1832-1891) within the inset landscape cartouche; with publisher's seal Jokin (Joshuya Kinzo of Shofukudo) and censor's date seal Uma-go (year of the horse , 5th month)
oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 10 1/8 in., 37.5 by 25.6 cm
A beauty kneeling on double-layered futons holds a padded lacquer pillow on her lap while glancing to her right. She wears a loose-fitting beni-dyed kimono with a resist pattern of katawa-guruma (wagon wheel sinking in water) and nadeshiko (carnations) over a blue and black Benkei-goushi checked inner robe and a pale pink underrrobe with a crisp white collar decorated with purple genjimon (stylized crests from an incense game associated with The Tale of Genji). The futon covers with complimentary koushi (plaid) patterns on a white ground; the bottom layer with wide green with thin purple and black lines, the upper layer with wide purple and thin green and black lines. Mounded in a pile behind her are more textiles including a purple sash decorated with a white floral band, and a layer of bedding or a kimono decorated kagome (basketry), and roundels of seigaiha (stylized waves) and karakusa (scrolling vines) on a dark green ground with white stylized sparrows among bamboo and yellow and edged with a wide band of red.
This composition is from the large, collaborative bijin series Edo meisho hyakunin bijo (One Hundred Beautiful Women at Famous Places in Edo) by Kunisada and a group of his pupils. In this print, the inset landscape cartouche is signed by Utagawa Kunihisa II (1832-1891), a student and eventual son-in-law of the master Kunisada. By the mid-19th century, the Utagawa school was the dominant group of ukiyo-e print designers, and such collaboration within the school was not at all unusual. The location depicted in the landscape cartouche, Naito Shinjuku, founded in 1698 by a group of brothel owners to be the first stop on the Koshu Highway, was well situated as a center of prostitution. Named for the daimyo Naito, who's estate occupied the land used to found the town, Naito Shinjuku had a rather rustic reputation. In one scene of the kabuki play Kinkin sensei eiga no yume (Master Kinkin's Dream of Glory), an inured geisha compared the courtesans of Naito Shinjuku to "flowers blooming in the horse droppings of Yotsuya." This imagery became literary convention, as the Meiji haiku poet Naito Meisetsu (1847-1926) wrote "Ah, Shinjuku! On the horse droppings, morning frost."
Henry D. Smith II et. al., Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1986, cat. no. 86 (re: Naito Shinjuku)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.15352
(inv. no. 10-2815)
detail (right sheet)
detail (left sheet)
A Collection of Charming Tales of Genji: Chapter 2, The Broom Tree
(Genji goshu yojo: Dai ni no maki, Hahakigi)
deluxe printing, the entire background with karazuri (blind printing) of various patterns including shippomon (interlocking circles), genjimon (incense patterns), hishi (diagonal grid of water-chestnuts), and bands of clouds, and further karazuri in a sayagata (interlocking manji) pattern on the white areas of the standing figure's clothing, burnished patterns on clothing of both, lacquer printing of standing screen, and nunomezuri on the square cartouches; each sheet signed Toyokuni ga within artist's Toshidama seal, publisher's seal with address Sho, Ryogoku, Hirokoji, Hayashisho han (Hayashiya Shogoro), carver's seal Yokokawa Hori Take (Yokokawa Takejiro), censor's seal aratame (examined), and date seal mi-juichi (year of the snake , 11th month), 1857
oban tate-e diptych 14 3/8 by 19 1/2 in., 36.6 by 49.6 cm
This diptych is from a lavish series illustrating scenes from the serialized novel, A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji), a modern update by Ryutei Tanehiko issued from 1829-42 which was based on the 10th century courtly novel, The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari). Illustrated by Kunisada, the Rustic Genji (Inaka Genji), sparked a craze for all things Genji, particularly for imagery related to the adaption and its renamed characters, principally, Mitsuuji, protagonist of the modern Genji. In this scene from the second chapter of Rustic Genji, Mitsuuji (seated while playing the flute), is about to tell the standing Fuji no Kata of his feelings for her.
Both figures wear luxurious clothing, Mitsuuji in a purple kimono with a floral and karakusa (scrolling vine) pattern across the middle section and a red sash decorated with a checked pattern of auspicious motifs. Fuji no Kata wears a beni-dyed kimono with the asanoha (hemp leaf) pattern known as Hanshiro-kanoko (named for the kabuki actor Iwaii Hanshiro V who first wore it for a portrayal of the well-known tragic character Oshichi in March 1809). The kimono is lined with a purple fabric decorated with floral roundels, and her undergarment is also beni-dyed with a geometric pattern called sayagata, based on the interlocking 'manji' kanji which is also embossed on her white collar. Her double-sided obi is dark green with floral roundels over a latice pattern on one side, and solid purple on the other. Apparently overcome with emotion, she steadies herself by gripping the top edge of a tsuitate standing screen, on the floor beside her a thin wisp of smoke rises from an incense burner resting on a gold lacquer tray, the decorative wrapper for the incense folded nearby.
This title of the series, Genji goshu yojo, phonetically sounds very much like Genji go-ju-yon (lit. 'Genji Fifty-Four') in reference to the 54 chapters in the 10th century Tale of Genji, however, the kanji used in the title have a different meaning: goshu means 'collected,' while yojo can be translated as 'charming.' It was produced collaboratively by four different publishers between 1857 and 1861, in a super-deluxe format, utilizing thick paper, with special printing effects including karazuri (blind printing), nunomezuri (textile-weave printing), shomenzuri (burnishing), and extensive bokashi (gradation of color). The background is scattered with specks of yellow and brown in imitation of cut gold and silver-leaf used to embellish special papers and paintings.
Andreas Marks, Genji's World in Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2012, pp. 114-115, no. 51b (image of the scene from the original Rustic Genji); pp.136-137, no. 106
Museum of Fine Art, Boston (www.mfa.org), accession no. 11.41035a-b
The British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org), accession no. 1906,1220,0.1073
(inv. no. 10-5285)
Right: Related Sleeves in Bay-Dye
Left: Mutually Created Genji
Right: Related Sleeves in Bay-Dye, Left: Mutually Created Genji
(So no yukari sode ga urazome, Ai moyo Genji jitate)
with karazuri (blind printing) on the hanging scrolls in the background to mimic the texture of silk, lacquer printing in black areas and a dusting of mica in the upper areas of bokashi; signed Toyokuni ga with publisher's seal Izumi ichi (Izumiya Ichibei), censor's seal aratame, and date seal u-hachi (year of the hare , 8th month), 1855
oban tate-e hexaptych 13 3/4 by 57 1/8 in., 34.8 by 145.2 cm
Well into the mania for all things related to Genji in the mid-19th century, Kunisada produced this six-panel composition comprised of two adjacent triptychs, each with matching title cartouches located on the far right and far left sheets but with different titles, thereby ensuring the publisher the flexibility of selling the triptychs together as an impressive novelty, or separately, if need be. The expansive scene is of an evening gathering of elegant figures within a well-appointed interior. The location appears to be on an upper floor of a teahouse, brothel, or an inn, with shoji panels opening onto a verandah revealing an enviable view overlooking a body of water, the top part of boat riggings visible to the right, and a line of skiffs moored in the distance. Several candlestands provide lighting for the merry group who chat while occupying themselves with reading and writing, perhaps practicing calligraphy or composing poetry for a friendly contest.
At the far right seated on a cushioned pillow is Mitsuuji, the protagonist of A Rustic Genji and Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji), the modern adaption of the 10th century classic, The Tale of Genji (Genji Monagatari). He wears a sumptuous formal brocade coat utilizing purple and red with highlights in yellow over an inner layer of aubergine with a yon-kuzushi (lit. 'four counting rods') pattern, the black on his collar is printed with shomenzuri (burnishing) to imitate velvet. He is surrounded by beautiful women displaying a dizzying array of patterns, including, from right to left, a kneeling woman wearing a kimono with white daisy-like chrysanthemums over blue kagome temari balls, and light blue fundo-tsunagi (traditional weigh measurements) at the collar. A standing woman wears a purple kimono decorated with toys and light blue geometric sayagata (interlocking 'manji') pattern on the collar. A young girl wearing a red kimono decorated with kiku (chrysanthemums) hands Mitsuuji a cloth-wrapped item. A seated woman wears a striking ensemble with an outer kimono of maroon and white kanoko-shibori over an inner layer of blue and white with the same pattern, and an underrobe with white kikko (tortoiseshell) on a red ground. Both kimono have beni-red collars decorated with the pattern known as Hanshiro-kanoko, a shibori pattern in the shape of asanoha (hemp leaf) made popular by the kabuki actor Iwai Hanshiro V (1776-1847) in the early 19th century and apparently a favorite of Kunisda's as well, as it is worn by four other women in the composition. In the last panel of the right triptych a standing woman wearing a gorgeous black kimono with floral roundels pauses beside a shoji door to speak with a seated woman in purple leaning backwards to respond. In the right triptych a standing man holding a poem card or letter wears a dark green kimono with a pattern of dense light blue arare-komon (hailstones), a woman reading models the Hanshiro-kanoko pattern on her kimono with padded sayagata hem, and a man wearing a dark blue kimono with shippomon (interlocking circle crest) holds a brush at the ready as he contemplates a bundle of papers in his hand. A seated figure is seen in silhouette behind a shoji panel, on the other side of the open door a seated woman wears a kimono decorated with light blue and lavender shima (stripes) with floral bands over black and white Benkei-koushi (Benkei lattice or checked), and a standing woman wears a deep aubergine kimono decorated with black wisteria towards the hem. In the back corner of the room a woman holding a bundle of paper wears a brown and grey komochi-jima (lit. 'stripe with child') kimono, and on the verandah a figure in the foreground wearing a brown kimono with a dense hyotan (gourd) pattern approaches another peering around the corner wearing a back kimono decorated with blue seashells at the hem.
As multi-panel prints are vulnerable to separation, it is all the more astounding that this double triptych survived intact. The left triptych may have proven more popular as there are impressions with changes to the blocks and simplifications that economized on the selection of pigments used. It is unclear how the titles of the triptychs, Related Sleeves in Bay-Dye (right), and Mutually Creating Genji (left), relate to any specific episode in the Rustic Genji. In his comprehensive work on Kunisada's Genji-related prints, Marks groups this ambitious hexaptych in a category he calls 'Artists Imaginations,' pointing out that artists were only limited by what publishers were willing to finance. In this instance, Kunisada managed to design two equally harmonious compositions which when united, form more than the sum of its parts.
Andreas Marks, Genji's World in Japanese Prints, 2012, pp. 212-213. no. 214; Appendix 1 G236 & G234
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 00.968, 00.91003, 00.1004 (left triptych only, later impression)
(inv. no. 10-5579)
Comparison of Modern Flowers with Six Petals [Snowflakes]: Nagao of the Bishuro House in Shin-Yoshiwara
(Imayo mutsu no hana kurabe: Shin yoshiwara bishuro, Nagao)
signed Kunisada ga, with censor's date seal Tori-roku aratame (year of the rooster, 6th month, examined), publisher's seal of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), 1861
oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 10 in., 37.47 by 25.4 cm
The courtesan Nagao models an impressive dark purple kosode decorated with vines of blue and red morning glories, with a wide dark green obi with a floral pattern over dark blue sayagata (interlocking 'manji'). Her yoko-hyogo hairstyle resembling the parting wings of a butterfly is further adorned with a weighty array of gold lacquer ornaments and combs. She is accompanied by two kamuro (attendants) with elaborate silver-colored hair ornaments wearing matching furisode (lit. 'swingng sleeve') kimono made from the same mornng glories over dark purple material, and their contrasting orange and red obi have a similar pattern to that of Nagao.
References (from same series):
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.39084 (Nagahama of the Owari-ro House)
National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks (Hamaoji of the Bishuro House)
(inv. no. 10-5599)
Textile samples from
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