- Museum number
Painting, hanging scroll. Courtesan walking, wearing kimono decorated with swimming carp. Ink, colour and gold on silk. Signed and sealed.
- Production date
- 1818-1830 (c.)
Height: 209 centimetres (mount)
Height: 120 centimetres
Height: 41.50 centimetres
Width: 60.70 centimetres (mount)
- Curator's comments
A courtesan wearing a magnificent surcoat processes forward, while turning to look over her shoulder, posing so as to show off to best advantage the designs and patterns on the back of her robes and their skirts. Most striking is the design on the surcoat of teeming carp gliding in the water; the subject of carp and pondweed was used frequently in hangingscroll paintings by Hokusai and his pupils. Great play is given to the design of swirls and scattered maple leaves on the skirts, equally to the geometric pattern of interlocking crosses on the sash. This reminds us that ukiyo-e paintings of beautiful women were first and foremost preoccupied with the depiction of gorgeous patterns on their robes. This painting is by Gakutei, a pupil of Totoya Hokkei (1780–1850) of the school of Hokusai, who was active from the late Bunka era (1804–18) until at least 1869. The style of the woman’s face also shows the clear influence of the Utagawa-school artists active in the early nineteenth century. Gakutei was at one time also a pupil of Tsutsumi Shu-ei (d. 1814), who claimed artistic descent from the great medieval ink painter Sesshu- (1420–1506); his classical-style ink-painting technique was therefore highly syncretic. [NMa]
About 1823, based on the form of the signature (Martijn Helewihn, 06/07)
In the Bunsei era (1818-30) the fashions worn by courtesans became evermore gaudy and elaborate: veritable aureoles of tortoiseshell hairpins with flowers carved on the ends ('hana-kanzashi'); surcoats ('uchikake') with designs of dragons and tigers, padded to give a three-dimensional effect and embroidered with gold thread; wide brocade 'obi' tied in an ostentatious knot at the front; and high black lacquer clogs. We can only marvel at the taste of the times which undoubtedly found such extravagances attractive and at the stamina of the courtesans who managed to carry them off.
Here the woman is turning so as to display the fabulous design of swimming carp that was probably painted directly in 'sumi' on to the silk of her 'uchikake'. These are reminiscent of the famous 'surimono' showing a carp leaping up a waterfall which Gakutei designed in c. 1828. She lifts the scarlet end of her geometrically patterned 'obi' with a flourish behind her head, the more to show off the radiating hairpins. Her gritted teeth and squint suggest a formidable character, and again we can savour the peculiarity of late-Edo aesthetics, like exotic hybrids of cultivated flowers.
The painting is technically extremely accomplished and in an individual style not dominated by either of the prevailing Hokusai or Utagawa idioms.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2011 Jun-Oct, London, BM, Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The collection of Japanese and Chinese paintings belonging to Arthur Morrison was purchased by Sir William Gwynne-Evans, who presented it to the British Museum in 1913.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.1500 (Japanese Painting Number)