The Courtesan Kisegawa of the Matsubaya


  • Catalogue text

    Kitagawa Utamaro as a pupil of Toriyama Sekien (1712-88) of the Kano School. The leading characteristic of Utamaro’s bijinga was the innovative portraiture that differed from Kiyonaga’s bijinga but was as equally influential on artists as on the public. Utamaro's bijinga portrayed women, illustrate details of character, mood and expression with a delicate touch.

    In this bust portrait the Courtesan Kisegawa II from the Matsuba-ya House is looking to her left, putting the tips of her fingers under her chin, while holding a fan in her right hand. The small image in the circular cartouche top right gives a clue to the identity of the beauty (matsuba pine needles; ya arrow; kise(ru) pipe). This was a way of secretly referring to particular beauties, when the regulation of 1796 was imposed, that the name of women should not be mentioned on prints. The uchiwa-e (decoration on a non-folding fan) is purple morning glory which suggests early autumn. Both the fan and the white undergarment of her kimono are embossed in the method known as gauffrage, and her collar is printed with mica.

    The seal following his signature on this print, which reads 'honke' was Utamaro’s way of authenticating his own work.

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