Kunisada, Woman with Bonsai

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Woman with Bonsai, c.1840. Oban.

This is a delightful and sensitive portrait of a woman from a series unknown to me. The drawing, the delicacy of the design and the print quality are outstanding. The print seems to be closest to an 1840 series that pairs beautiful women with scenes from The Chushingura. Kunisada was a prolific producer of these candid images of women, many in scenes of domestic chores - washing their hair, shopping, cleaning or entertaining. Many series depicted well known or named courtesans - a kind of clothed pin-up. Still others attempted to make metaphors or allegories between women and historic scenes, beautiful views (as in this case) or else flowers, seasons or moods. He was hugely skilled at these pieces, as this print attests.

The print shows a Geisha, fashionably clothed with enormous ‘platform’ shoes holding a miniature potted tree. So common are these elements in Kunisada’s work that there is even a website devoted to the bonsai illustrated in Kunisada prints!  Kunisada was not a landscape artist by temperament and the scenic views in his prints are often borrowed exactly from the great Tokaido Road series of his colleague Hiroshige. The landscape is divided from the foreground scene by a schematic cloud which creates a flat foreground space in contrast to the sweeping perspective of the scene behind.

A very fine ‘Bijin’ print as the genre is termed; the iris on the kimono is especially delicate. The colour, impression and condition are all very fine except for some worm damage to the sky which has been partially restored.

25cm x 35cm.