Keisai Eisen, Reading Books, Beauty Portrait


Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Keisai Eisen (1790–1848)
Title: Reading Books
Series: Eight Favorite Things in the Modern World
Publisher: Izumiya Ichibei (Kansendo)
Date: 1823
Size: 25.4 x 37.2 cm
Condition: Residue from previous backing and mounting. Small stain top right of print. Minor creases.


Keisei Eisen's series Eight Favourite Things in the Modern World juxtaposes courtesans with homages to contemporary life in the Edo period. The lasting peace of the Pax Tokugawa government enabled developments in education, and is understood as a time of increasing literacy among the population. Along with the dissemination of woodblock prints, classical literature was also avidly consumed by the general public.A pile of books can be seen on the top left corner of the print, with the first being a book illustrated by Eisen himself. Underneath this is the Nanso Satomi Hakkenden (The Eight Dog Chronicles), a popular novel by Kyokutei Bakin (1767-1848) that was serialised for 28 years.The epic tale of magic and revenge focuses on the battles of eight brothers who have spiritually descended from a dog and represent the Confucian virtues. This print points towards the comical with the Pekingese dog resting on the courtesans shoulder indicating the canine theme of the popular novel.

Eisen Keisai (1790 - 1848)

Keisai Eisen was an artist, who alongside Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), was renowned for his beauty prints, depicting courtesans and geisha in everyday life, sometimes touching on the erotic in nature. Despite his devotion to the genre he also produced noteworthy landscape prints such as the ‘Eight Views of Edo’ (‘Edo Hakkei’) series, occasionally collaborating with Hiroshige I. Eisen is also known for his development of aizuri-e, which is a term that describes ukiyo-e that is printed only in shades of blue. This technique was popular in the 1830s and 1840s and has been employed by various artists, including Hokusai. He began an apprenticeship in art early on in life, studying with the Kano painter Hakkeisai. He later was looked after by Kikugawa Eiji and became known as a pupil of Eiji’s son, Kikugawa Eizan, who was his contemporary, through curious circumstances. The feudal lord of the Hishu province wanted to own all prints produced by Kikugawa Eizan’s students and received a collection of them, in which Keisai Eisen’s prints were included. Thereafter, Eisen was then considered to be Eizan’s student, too.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistEisen Keisai (1790 - 1848)
SubjectBeauty & Female
Size25.4 x 37.2 cm
publisherIzumiya Ichibei:1770-1886