Utagawa Yoshikazu (active 1850-1870) Foreigners Enjoying Themselves in the Gankiro Teahouse, 1861. Oban Triptych.
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This is I think a tremendously important print. It comes from very early on in the period of trade that opened up Japan to the west from 1859 onwards, presaging the end of the Edo period, the restitution of the Empire in 1868 and the beginning of modern Japan. The print makes a terrific comparison to another teahouse print by the artist Kunichika from the 1860’s. Style, colour, perspective, (confusing multiple views compete here between western and eastern styles) are all very similar… the Kunichika shows traditional Japanese pursuits and a Japanese clientele whereas this print shows the antics of perhaps American or Dutch merchantmen cavorting, whoring and drinking. This is, aside from the fascinating perspective and other detail, an important cultural document, a first hand account of the economic invasion by a foreign power on the indigenous culture of Japan.
The print shows a teahouse (the teahouse) at Yokohama. The customers are of the five nation signatories of the 1858 trade agreement… . The teahouse was properly a brothel, a place of entertainment. The building was lavish, luxurious and sophisticated. A contemporary engraving by an American of the same place from 1874, confirms the huge scale of the building, the indoor pond, the bridge, the glazed roof, the arches and strange, fluid architecture which Yoshikazu has tried to picture in the triptych. Other prints by Hiroshige II and Yoshiiku confirm the style of the place and features such as the famous ‘Fan Room’, visible to the far right of the print in the background. Indeed it is possible to make a virtual reconstruction of the building (now long gone) from the disparate elements of these woodblock prints. Thanks to the Hiroshige, we know that we are looking at the first floor, and the black bannisters on the right sheet give way to a view of the huge indoor carp pond and the bridge over which clients could stroll with ‘geisha’ prior to ascending to the private rooms and entertainments on the first floor.
We see musicians playing instruments and the clumsy dancing of the westerners, one already stripped to his shirtsleeves. A lavish meal is arranged before them and they are served by Japanese men in workers' jackets. Beyond the entertainment in the foreground, we observe a huge mural of waterfall and gods, and a man in black jacket removing his shoes prior to a private session.
This is an important print, the colour and impression are very good, condition is good overall. There is a copy of this print in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
75 x 36 cm.