Kitagawa Utamaro, Ohisa of the Takashima tea-shop, a colour woodblock print

Japan
Edo period, about AD 1792-93

A celebrated beauty

Ohisa was one of the favourite subjects of several Ukiyo-e print artists in the 1790s, especially Kitagawa Utamaro (died 1806). Ohisa was the daughter of the proprietor of the Takashima chain of cake-shops and tea shops in Edo and seems to have made her reputation serving tea at the family shop near Ryōgoku Bridge. On this print her beauty is celebrated in the poem, top right, by Karabana Tadaaya. The translation reads:

Charms and tea are brimming over
And neither gets cold!
Let me not wake
From this lucky dream of the New Year
At Takashimaya.

In the late 1780s one of Utamaro's main products, de luxe anthologies of poems, were banned by law, so he, together with publisher Tsutaya Jūsaburō, started to make these half-length (ō-kubi) prints instead. Set against a silvery-white mica background, the format shows the bijin ('beautiful women') to perfection. Utamaro is particularly celebrated for his ability to capture the individuality of his female subjects in all their moods. Here Ohisa turns to glance questioningly at someone just outside the picture. Her black gauze kimono has a pattern of yellow and white flashes, and the neck-line is carefully arranged to reveal the back of her neck. Her obi (sash) has a design of a plover wheeling above stylized waves. The fan bears the triple oak-leaf family crest (mon) of the Takashima family.

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More information

Bibliography

L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

M. Narasaki (ed.), Hizō Ukiyo-e taikan-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987)

L. Smith (ed.), Ukiyo-e images of unknown Japa (London, The British Museum Press, 1988/89)

S. Asano and T. Clark, The passionate art of Kitagawa (London, 1995)

Dimensions

Height: 376.000 mm
Width: 247.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA 1927.6-13.06

JCF12274

Gift of R.N. Shaw

Location

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