Toyokuni III Utagawa, Courtesans of Miura Tea House

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JG031949
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Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artists: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: Courtesans of Miura-ya
Publisher: Izumiya Ichibei
Date: 1855
Condition report: Centre folds, a few wormholes.
Size: (L)37.3 x 25.6 cm (C) 37.4 x 25.6 cm (R) 37.4 x 25.5 cm

 

Toyokuni III Utagawa, also known as Kunisada I Utagawa, was one of the most popular artists of his time. A disciple of Toyokuni I Utagawa he, like his master, was extremely well known for his actor prints of kabuki theatre. He also did prints of scenes from the Tale of Genji epic story as well as beauty prints like the ones seen here.

 

The three beauties portrayed are courtesans of the Miura tea house. There they would have entertained patrons with their knowledge, voice, and instrumental skills, and of course their beauty. While this would have been far outside the budget of the everyday citizen, they could still enjoy a piece of the beauty from their own homes through prints such as these.

Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I) (1786 - 1864)


Kunisada I Utagawa was a prolific woodblock print artist mostly known for his pictures of beautiful women (bijinga) and kabuki actors prints (yakusha-e). Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he became a pupil of Toyokuni I Utagawa (1769-1825) at the age of 15 and would later adopt his name in the traditional Japanese manner, becoming Toyokuni III and continuing the development of the Utagawa art school.

Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807 and his first actor portrait the following year. Alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted a large number of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the nickname ‘Yakusha-e no Kunisada’ – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijinga he clung to the ideal of beauty prevalent at the time. Most of the women portrayed were courtesans from Yoshiwara, the regulated red-light district of the city.

In 1820s Kunisada joined author Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) to work on illustrating a series of books based on the classical novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, the reinterpreted story having been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience in Edo. The work started a new ukiyo-e genre, genji-e, and proved an overnight success, becoming the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies, a record which stood for many years.

Kunisada gave his audience an escape from the restrictions of their ordinary lives and his designs, with their optimism and energy, still have the capacity today to attract and entertain. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara, Sadahide Utagawa and Kunisada II Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistToyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I) (1786 - 1864)
SubjectBeauty & Female
Size(L) 37.3 x 25.6 cm (C) 37.4 x 25.6 cm (R) 37.4 x 25.5 cm
publisherIzumiya Ichibei:1770-1886