Keisai Eisen


Eight Favorite Things in the Modern World: Kenzake
(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)

price: $8,500

Keisai Eisen



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site last updated
May 25, 2023

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
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