Eisen, The Courtesan Nagadayu of Okamato-ya Seated Under a Cherry Branch

Keisai Eisen (1790 - 1848) The Courtesan Nagadayu of Okamato-ya Seated Under a Cherry Branch, 1830. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

Keisai Eisen was an important ukiyo-e artist who studied under the similarly named Kikugawa Eizan. As with this marvellous classic print, Eisen is principally known as a master of the Bijin or beauty print and this is no exception.  This print, much in the archaic Edo tradition is very different from other prints in this collection which show women as dynamic, active, participatory. Here we see a fabulous piece of classical, Japanese printmaking. The definition of the floating world of Edo, defined by the writer Asai Ryoi in 1661 well describes the atmosphere of this piece:

“… living only for the moment, savouring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: this is what we call ukiyo.”

The cherry blossom, the brocade, the beauty and youthfulness, the leisure - what Matisse might later describe as luxe, calme et volupté - are present here in this piece. But this print tells us so much: the casual acceptance of prostitution (including geisha); and the difference between the unthreatening role of the compliant woman against the anxiety that was to surface later in the century. We see the named prostitute of a house outside Edo, beautiful and wealthy, the coastal suburb visible in the square cartouche.  An expensive andon (lamp) beneath a flowering cherry branch all suggest luxury and indulgence. She holds a roll of thin cloth in her right hand - an indication of her profession.

A fine print, colour, condition and impression are all excellent.

A copy of this print is in the MFA Boston.

24 x 37 cm.