Katsukawa Shunsen (1762-1830) Courtesan Wearing an Obi with a Design of Chrysanthemum, 1810's. Vertical Diptych (Kakemono).
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This kakemono by Shunsen is from around 1820, and is in the form of a bijin-ga ("pictures of beautiful women"). It is in fine condition for its age, the delicate vegetable colours are especially fresh. The print was presumably mounted on a scroll, as was habitual, but this seems to have avoided the centuries of cigarette smoke and oil lamp soot. The print depicts a courtesan holding a roll of tissue; this symbol of rolled paper was used to identify prostitutes from other types of entertainer. Something of note, is the extraordinary and elaborate wooden hair pegs she wears, called kanzashi— ten in all, each of them at least a foot in length. These were often made from tortoiseshell, silver, gold and gemstones, worn in a number of heavily-waxed hairstyles. Such decorations were highly symbolic of the successful and desirable status of the woman. It remains popular these days to make distinctions between oiran and geisha. Geisha were theoretically entertainers, sophisticated stand-ins for upper class wives… oiran were exploited, indentured prostitutes. As in this image, oiran would imitate the geisha, but in a gaudier way, with larger hair, more ornate kimono and a sexier gait. Oiran were considered to be decadent and showy. Regardless of the highly ordered distinctions in Edo society, the lot of all women in the "red light" districts of the Japanese cities was probably unglamorous and wearisome.
The print is in excellent condition for its type. Two sheets, not attached and unbacked. The previous mounting has been removed. The design is deeply embossed with patterned decoration over the whole surface. The delicate vestigial colours have survived well. Condition overall is excellent. Impression also very good, condition is fine for an early example.
74 x 24.6 cm.