Keisai Eisen


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)

price: $5,800

Keisai Eisen
Courtesan Toyooka (detail center sheet)

Keisai Eisen
Courtesan Okiku (detail left sheet)


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site last updated
March 21, 2023

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
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