The First Collection of Modern Beauties: Rouge
(Gendai bijin shu dai isshu: Kuchibeni)
with mica highlights on her obi and the mirror; signed and dated at upper right corner, Showa yonnen gogatsu Shinsui ga (Showa 4 , 5th month, by Shinsui), with artist's seal Shinsui, with limited edition seal on verso, Nihyakugoju mai zeppan, dai shichijuyon ban (250 limited edition, number 74), and publisher's rectangular seal Watanabe, 1929
dai oban tate-e 42.7 by 28 cm
A beauty seated before her kyodai daubs a bit of beni (red safflower used to stain the lips which is also used as a pigment for prints and paintings) on her finger from a small porcelain dish. She wears a kimono decorated with bands of stylized fringed carnations (nadeshiko) floating on a pale grey ground and bands of blue stylized waves, with a contrasting soft green creped collar and dramatically offset by a deep red and white checked obi. The reflective surface of her mirror and the white squares of her obi are highlighted with white mica.
From 1916 up until 1921, when Watanabe held his first exhibition of shin-hanga prints at the Shirokiya department store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Shinsui produced twenty-nine woodblock prints, with only six of the works depicting beauties. During that early period of experimentation, Watanabe gave Shinsui free reign regarding subjects, accepting any design Shinsui submitted, offsetting his financial loss with the profitable sale of ukiyo-e through his print shop. But beginning in 1921, Shinsui produced bijinga (images of beautiful women) almost exclusively for the next fifteen years. After the 1923 earthquake, Watanabe consolidated his stable of artists according to genres, with Shinsui as his leading bijinga print designer. Having lost his entire inventory of ukiyo-e and shin-hanga in the fires follwing the quake, Watanabe needed to be pragmatic going forward. The developmental period was over, Tokyo was engaged in reconstruction, and the shin-hanga market was growing.
In 1929 Watanabe announced the production of this series, First Series of Modern Beauties, to be issued in editions limited to only 250 impressions. Of each edition, he intended to distribute 200 impressions by subscription and the remaining 50 would be available individually. Although it consisted of only twelve designs, it took two years to complete.
Tadasu Watanabe, Ito Shinsui: All the Woodblock Prints, 1992, p. 80, no. 52
Reigle Newland, Amy, and Hamanaka Shinji, The Female Image, 2000, p. 63, no. 56
Mueller, Laura J., Strong Women, Beautiful Men: Japanese Portrait Prints from the Toledo Museum of Art, 2005, p. 89
Carolyn M. Putney, Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints, 2013, p. 97, cat. no. 26
Chiaki Ajioka, Ito Shinsui, in Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, 2015, pp. 99-103
(inv. no. 10-0742)
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site last updated
October 14, 2021
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
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