Yoshitora Utagawa, High-rank Courtesan, Bijin-ga, Kimono Design


Artist: Yoshitora Utagawa (Active in 1850-1880)
Title: Oiran Bijin (High-rank courtesan)
Publisher: Izumiya Ichibei
Date: 1859
Size: (T) 24 x 36 (B) 24 x 35.5 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print. 

Courtesans of Edo period Japan were not only skilled in serving a male customer, but they were also experts in dance, music, conversation, and other kinds of entertainment. They operated within the licensed quarters, such as the Yoshiwara district. They had a complex system of ranks, etiquette, and procedures. A courtesan would earn her funds not only for herself, but also for her entire entourage, e.g. attendants, younger courtesans-in-training.

This courtesan is dressed in a spring-themed kimono while she looks to her left. On her garments, two sparrows are perched on the branches of a blossoming tree. She wears lacquered koma-geta, a tall traditional Japanese footwear of high-ranking courtesans.

Yoshitora Utagawa (a.c.1850 - 1880)

Yoshitora Utagawa was a woodblock print artist active towards the end of the 19th century in Japan. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), neither his date of birth nor date of death is known. Yoshitora was a pupil of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1798-1861), however, he was expelled due to artistic differences. He went on his own path and changed his artist name to Mosai, producing prints of warriors, kabuki actors, beautiful women, and foreigners in particular (Yokohama-e).

The limited contact with the West imposed by the Japanese regime in the Edo period (1603-1868) created endless curiosity that artists were eager to satisfy, although the situations they imagined were sometimes far from being accurate. It is evident from these prints that the Japanese were fascinated by the clothing, the strange habits and the occupations of the foreigners.

For much of the Edo period Japan adopted a sakoku (closed country) policy. Sakoku was a system in which strict regulations were placed on commerce and foreign relations by the shogunate and certain feudal domains. Trade was limited, except for the port of Nagasaki where the Dutch and Chinese were the only ones allowed to operate. In 1859 the port of Yokohama was opened to foreigners, and ukiyo-e artists, primarily of the Utagawa school, produced hundreds of woodblock print designs in response to a general curiosity about the newly arrived visitors.

Yoshitora was a leading designer of these prints and he also produced a number of landscapes derived from Western engraving. In the Meiji period that began in 1868 he also worked for newly established newspapers.

More Information
Print FormatKakemono-e (Scroll)
ArtistYoshitora Utagawa (a.c.1850 - 1880)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Kimono Design
Size(T) 24 x 36 (B) 24 x 35.5 cm
Condition ReportLight water stains. Some wear on the edges and thin areas. Light soiling and some paper residue on the back. Pinholes.
publisherIzumiya Ichibei:1770-1886