active ca. 1830-1850
Preparatory Drawing for print of 'Shadow Pictures of the Floating World: Courtesan at her Toilette'
(Ukiyo no kage-e)
sumi ink drawing on paper, unsigned, with notations regarding colors, ca. 1830's
conserved on achival paper 15 3/4 by 11 in., 40.1 by 27.8 cm
This preparatory drawing relates directly to a print from Sencho's series, Shadow Pictures of the Floating World (Ukiyo no kage-e) published by Kawaguchiya Shozo in the 1830s. It appears to be the near-final version with very detailed instructions for the carver and printer on how the coloration should be addressed. These details would not be given if the design were not yet approved for production. While the absolute final version of the design, the hanshita, would be destroyed in the normal process of carving the keyblock, drawings of this type would have been helpful to keep on hand during the production process, particularly for the printer, to ensure that the artist's intentions were followed.
Sencho was a student of Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), and this composition seems to have been inspired in part by Eisen's Twilight Snow at Hitsotsume in Honjo from his series Eight Dates with Geisha/Eight Views of Fans (Ogi hakkei: Honjo Hitosotsume no bosetsu) published by Kawaguchiya Uhei of Fukusendo in the late 1820s. However, the publisher Matsu-Tsuru issued a very similar design by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) as part of an untitled Eight Views of Omi (Omi Hakkei) series in circa 1825. Kunisada framed his composition with objects including a hibachi, water basin, and blue and white bowl, as well as a cartouche with the 'Returning Sails at Yabase' poem from the Eight Views theme (the visual allusion to the poem is a suggestion of sailboats by the blue and white towel the beauty has draped over her arm). The Eisen print includes a mirror stand in roughly the same position as the hibachi in the Kunisada print, a bundle of towels, a tobacco pipe beside an unfurled letter, a product-placement of Bien Senjoko face powder and a folding fan-shaped cartouche.
The Sencho print forgoes all of the accessories but places the beauty in front of shoji panels through which we see the silhouettes of male figures (their gender identified by their topknots). Although the overall positioning of the beauty is essentially the same in all three, in each print the patterns on her clothing are different, her hairstyle changes slightly, and she holds either a folding mirror, water bowl or cosmetic box in her left hand. Sencho opted to lengthen a section of her obi that extends outward near her left leg which is decorated with two archaic seals, a convention found often on Eisen prints. If we are to trust the circa dating on all three works, then Kunisada produced the first design which then provided inspiration for the Eisen print followed by the Sencho print. However, there are details such as the overall shape and folds of the kimono at her feet, shoulders and sleeves, and the length of the towel draped on her arm, that suggest that perhaps Sencho referred to both works as he prepared this composition.
Charlotte van Rappard-Boon, Willem van Gulik, Keiko van Bremen-Ito, Catalogue of the Van Gogh Museum's Collection of Japanese Prints, 1991, p. 255, no 366, object number n0449V1962 (Sencho print)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.30351 (Kunisada print)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.17894 (Eisen print)
(inv. no. 10-2690)
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