- Museum number
Colour woodblock oban triptych print, mitate-e. Half-length bust portraits of beauties in parody of 'Narihira's Journey to the East': courtier Ariwara no Narihira, wearing court hunting-cloak and looking up at Mt Fuji with right sleeve raised; attendants surrounding him to front and rear. Signed and marked.
- Production date
- 1797-1798 (ca.)
Height: 36.90 millimetres (centre)
Height: 36.80 millimetres (left)
Height: 36.90 centimetres (right)
Width: 24.70 centimetres (centre)
Width: 25.10 centimetres (left)
Width: 24.90 centimetres (right)
- Curator's comments
Asano and Clark 1995
Beauties parody "Narihira's Journey to the East" (Narihira Azuma-kudari), episode nine from ‘Tales of Ise’ (Ise monogatari), The composition takes the traditional form of the scene: the courtier Ariwara no Narihira, mounted on a horse and wearing a court hunting-cloak, looks up at Mt Fuji with his right sleeve raised and fluttering in the breeze. Surrounding him to the front and rear are attendants. But what is unusual is to make this into a triptych of half-length and bust figures. Only three triptychs of half-length figures are known in Utamaro's ‘oeuvre’. In addition to the present design there are: "Procession of Yosooi of the Matsubaya" (Matsubaya Yosooi no dochu, published by Tsuruya Kiemon), and "Fireworks at Ryogoku" (Ryogoku no hanabi, published by Tsutaya Juzaburo). All three date from about 1797-8.
"Kitagawa Utamaro sakuhin mokuroku" 「喜多川歌麿作品目録」, 'Ukiyo-e shuka', 「浮世絵聚花」, vol. 3 (Bosuton Bijutsukan III ボストン美術館３), Shogakkan, Tokyo, 1978, pp. 235-254, pl. 462.
Smith, Lawrence, ed., ‘Ukiyoe: Images of Unknown Japan’, BMP, London, 1988, no. 98.
‘Hizo Ukiyo-e taikan’「秘蔵浮世絵大観」, gen. ed. Narazaki, Muneshige, vol. 2, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1987-90, pl. 174 .
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Edwin & Irma Grabhorn Collection (centre sheet only).
[Main text translated in Japanese below / 以下上記本文日本語訳]
This is a travesty of the ninth chapter of the classic work of Japanese literature 'Ise Monogatari' ('Tales of Ise'). In it the exiled poet Narihira stops near Mount Fuji to admire it. Here the scene is played by contemporary men and women. The men are imitating court dress. The signature is 'The brush of Utamaro'.
Like the previous, this is probably intended as some kind of parody of 'Narihira's Journey to the East'. The question is, who is performing the parody? In the first detailed study of Utamaro and his works, written by the French author and critic Edmond de Goncourt in 1891 (assisted in large measure by the Japanese dealer Hayashi Tadamasa), this triptych of colour woodblock prints is described as showing three groups of half-length figures, each group comprising a man and a woman ('Edmond de Goncourt, 'Outamaro: he Peintre des Maisons Vertes', Paris, Charpentier, 1891, repr. 1904, p. 195'). Certainly the hairstyles of the upper figures on the centre and right sheets are masculine, with narrow side-locks, and these two figures clearly impersonate, respectively, the courtier-poet Ariwara no Narihira and a standard-bearing retainer. Otherwise, however, the hairstyles of the figures are definitely feminine. Each participant either wears or carries on their back some kind of man's court head-gear and the figure on the far left ceremoniously carries the lord's sword, held vertically. We should imagine the central figure to be mounted on a horse, and the gesture with the arm raised and sleeve of the hunting cloak thrown behind the head is standard to the iconography of many classic depictions of Narihira admiring Mt Fuji.
One possible explanation may be that this records one of the costume parades performed each autumn in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter as part of the Niwaka Festival. Throughout the eighth month, male and female geisha who worked in Yoshiwara would put on fanciful costumes and process around the quarter on floats or with other elaborate props. To complicate the gender question still further, female geisha seem sometimes to have dressed as men for these events. Utamaro designed many dozens of prints illustrating the participants in the parades, shown as groups of full-length figures, invariably with the title 'Seiro niwaka' ('Niwaka Festival in the Brothel Quarter'). The format of a triptych of half-length portraits is unusual: only two other examples by the artist are known. Since no horse is in evidence, here, it may be that the central figure is in fact mounted on a festival float. Alternatively, this may simply be an imagined parody of the famous scene from classical literature populated by Utamaro's habitually idealized young men and women.
Binyon, Laurence. 'A Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Woodcuts in the British Museum'. London, British Museum, 1916, [Utamaro] no. 104.
Ueno no Mori Bijutsukan, eds. 'Daiei Hakubutsukan shozo ukiyo-e meisaku ten'. Tokyo, 1985, no. 98.
'Hizo ukiyo-e taikan', vol. 2, Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987, no. 174 (commentary by Kono Motoaki).
Smith, Lawrence. 'Ukiyo-e: Images of Unknown Japan'. London, British Museum Press, 1988, no. 98.
Asano Shugo and Timothy Clark. 'The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro'. 2 vols. London, British Museum Press, 1995, no. 278.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2010 22 Sep-14 Nov, Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 'Kitagawa Utamaro'
2009 Jul 1- Oct 25, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
2001, 11 May-29 Jul, BM Japanese Galleries, '100 Views of Mount Fuji'
2011 Feb 14- Jun 13, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Niwaka Festival (?)
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Ise monogatari 伊勢物語 (Narihira Azuma-kudari 業平東下り (episode 9))
- Acquisition date
- Registration number