FASHION FORWARD: Edo Beauties of the Floating World
New York Asia Week
September 15–23, 2022, 11 am – 5 pm
Scholten Japanese Art is pleased to announce our upcoming gallery presentation, FASHION FORWARD: Edo Beauties of the Floating World, inspired by the recent museum exhibitions, Dressed by Nature: Textiles of Japan at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (through February 2023). The prints on view at the gallery will explore the swagger and finesse of kimono styles from the 19th century as presented by woodblock print artists, who themselves could be considered the tastemakers and fashion editors of their time.
The Debut of a New Geisha
(Geisha hatsudashi zu)
each sheet signed Toyokuni ga, with publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Tobei, Kinkodo), with censor's seal kiwame (approved), ca. 1810s
oban tate-e triptych 14 7/8 by 29 5/8 in., 37.8 by 75.4 cm
An intimate view of three beauties getting ready for a special event: The Debut of a New Geisha (Geisha hatsudashi zu). In the center sheet we see the star of the show, a lithe young geisha stands modeling her outfit, an understated mauve kosode of with waterbirds over a pattern of swirling waves below the knees and the hem padded lightly with a green fabric decorated with a delicate white floral pattern. The subtle robe is offset with a large brocade obi decorated with white camellia blossoms over a black scrolling motif against a red (oxidized iron) ground. She is twisting her torso as though to check the complex bow tied towards the back and ask her friend seated to her right: 'does this look okay? Her companion turns to her in response while drying her neck with a towel. Seated at her kyodai (dressing table), she is further behind in her peparations for the evening. Her hair undone and she has not bothered to completely close her thin dressing gown of pale grey decorated with a pattern of grasses over white resist butterflies. On the opposite side a third geisha, who is dressed and ready to go, sits relaxing on a cloth-covered box or trunk while cleaning her teeth with a toothpick. Wearing a chic black kosode decorated with a pattern of pine needles, ginko and maple leaves at the hem paired with a lattice-patterned obi of somber hues and accessorized with a purse and netsuke in the form a circling dragon, she exudes an air of authority and experience and seems to regard the young geisha with approval.
Unlike most images of floating world beauties, Toyokuni explicitly identifies these ladies as geisha, professional entertainers, not to be confused with courtesans, who were professional prostitutes. By the late Edo period (1600-1868), the roles (and visual cues) that defined and differentiated a courtesan from a geisha were increasingly ambiguous. Courtesans were similar to geisha in that they were trained in the arts and were frequently accomplished musicians; and geisha could choose to arrange assignations and patronage (with 'benefits') with their customers. As such, ukiyo-e artists frequently blurred the distinction between the two, particularly by the 1820s, a period when geisha were approaching the height of popularity and were eclipsing high-ranking courtesans as arbiters of fashion and style. The subdued hues of the kosode and obi worn by the women in this composition reflect the influence of the iki (chic) style of restrained elegance popularized by geisha and embraced by merchant-class women of Edo.
A Pocket Mirror of Beauties- Six Immortal Poets of the Era: Ariwara no Narihira
(Bijin kaichu kagami- Jisei rokkassen: Ariwara no Narihira)
signed Keisai Eisen, with publisher's seal Senichi (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), ca. 1826-28
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
A high ranking-courtesan strikes a pose while looking over her shoulder. She wears a kimono the color of green tea over a beni-dyed robe with white kanoko (fawn spots), with an unusual repetition of pattern of scattered maple leaves on the collars of both. Another inner robe has a collar with a sophisticated pattern of plum blossoms over geometric sayagata (interlocked 'manji') suggestive of blue and white porcelain. Her hair is adorned with gold lacquer ornaments, and she wears iridescent green sasabeni ('bamboo rouge' 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 (as in, 'what's old is new again').
While the title, Rokkasen, refers to the classic grouping of six 'immortal' (or great) waka poets of the 9th/10th centuries, in this context it would be understood as a collection of six renowned beauties of the moment. The maple leaves on the oiran's collar identify the subject as compared to the immortal poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880 A.D.) and thought to be the hero of the Tale of Ise. One the most famous verses from the tale references maple leaves.
Kamiyo mo kikazu
Mizu kukuru to wa
Even in the age
Of the mighty gods-
These deep crimson splashes
Dyed in Tatsuta's waters
-Tale of Ise, verse no. 106
Helen Craig McCullough, trans., Tale of Ise: Lyrical Episodes from the Tenth Century Japan, Stamford University Press, 1968, p. 141
Jyuzou Suzuki, Meihinsen Ukiyo-e, Gyousei, 1991, Vol. VII, p. 158
Thirty-Two Physiognomic Types in the Modern World: The Popular Type
(Tosei sanjuni so: Hayari so)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga with artist's Matsukawabishi with Toshidama seal, censor's seal Kiwame (approved), and publisher's seal Ju (Nishinomiya Shinroku of Gangetsudo and Shunshoken), ca. 1821-22
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm
A woman holding a black lacquer mirror case in one hand and a make-up brush in the other, carefully smudges her eyebrow make-up with her pinky finger. She wears an indigo blue katabira (lightweight summer kimono) decorated with a profusion of white cherry blossoms and kanoko (fawn spots) on the beni-dyed red lining loosely tied with a black obi. The weather must be warm as she has pushed her sleeves up above her elbow and the neckline is open wide to try to keep cool. Her a hair is simply coiffed with only one silver hairpin adorned with an attached ornament in the shape of a dragonfly. The clarity of her exposed skin is emphasized by the pink background.
The series title, Thirty-Two Physiognomic Types in the Modern World (Tosei sanjuni so), references the Buddhist belief that thirty-two physical traits distinguished the Buddha as an enlightened being. A similar concept was embraced in the practice of physiognomy (sogaku or soho), the study of divining a person's fortune or character based on facial features and/or palm reading. In c. 1792-93, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) presented two overlapping series organizing a smaller group of ten characteristics of women: Ten Types in the Physiognomic Study of Women (Fujin sogaku juttai), and Ten Classes of Women's Physiognomy (Fujo ninso juppan). This series by Kunisada follows a similar format, while the title indicates thirty-two types, a total of ten prints were produced, presenting half-length portraits of a variety of women of different ages, lasses, and professions, all against a pink background. Each type is identified in the cartouche in the shape of a magnifying glass as were used by professional physiognomists (somi), in addition to this Popular Type (who may be a popular geisha), Kunisada presented: The Capable Type, The Competitive Type, The Clever Type, The Theater-Loving Type, The In-Demand Type, The Playful Type, The Daughter of a High-Ranking Family, The Type That Attracts Clients from Edo, and the Conclusive Type.
Shugo Asano and Timothy Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, text vol., pp. 100-103, cat. nos. 56-64 (Utamaro's 'Ten Types' series)
Kunisada Exhibition, The Seikado Book Library, 1996, pp. 45-47, nos. 59-64 (six prints from the same series) Utagawa Kunisada: 150th Anniversary of His Death, Ota Memorial Museum of Art, 2014, p. 88, no. 96
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), accession no. 34.490
Famous Places in the Eastern Capital: Year-End Fair at Asakusa
(Toto meisho: Asakusa toshi no ichi)
each sheet signed Toyokuni ga, with publisher seal Tsuta (Tsutaya Umejiro), censor's seal Aratame (examined) and date seal Tora-uruu-nana (the year of the tiger  intercalary 7th month)
oban tate-e triptych 14 3/8 by 28 5/8 in., 36.5 by 72.6 cm
Three sophisticated beauties holding umbrellas pause on a snowy evening in front of the Hozomon Gate inside the Senso-ji temple grounds in Asakusa. At center a young beauty wearing a furisode (swinging sleeves) kimono suitable for an unmarried teenaged girl turns to look at her companion to her right while gesturing towards the other to her left. With a scarf wrapped around her head and bundled against the cold in voluminous layers, her purplish grey uchikake (formal cloak) decorated with a subtle pattern of pinstripes and stylized waves folds open slightly below the waist to reveal the white and green floral pattern of her underrobe. Her companions wear matching dark blue uchikake with black silk collars, red waist sashes, and black lacquer geta (raised sandals). The right figure lifts the hem of her kosode decorated with a red and white tatewaku (rising steam) pattern, while the green and white star or floral pattern of the kosode of the figure on the left is only visible at the collar and hem. All three beauties wear tabi socks with their geta to protect their feet from the cold and wet snow.
Behind them we see the inner view of the Hozomon Gate at Senso-ji, with its famous large lanterns just visible over the central beauty's shoulders. As they have passed through the gate, they are facing the main temple, and the iconic five-story pagoda is off to the right, tucked behind the title cartouche in the upper right corner. Snow falls gently against the dark sky, but the grounds are bustling with undeterred revelers and shoppers enjoying the annual year-end fair.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (collections.mfa.org), accession no. 47.37-9
(inv. no. C-3388)