- Museum number
Painting, hanging scroll, mitate-e. Parody of Zhuang Zi's dream of butterflies: courtesan wearing surcoat decorated with hanging coloured wisteria blooms and green brocade belt with design of water-wheels and trailing leaves of aquatic candock plant, seated leaning on Chinese writing-table with vase of peony, and looking up at butterfly. Ink, colour and gold on silk. Inscribed.
- Production date
Height: 32.30 centimetres
Width: 40.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Clark 1992
Zhuang Zi (Zhuang Zhou; Japanese: So Shi or So Shu) was a Chinese philosopher of the Warring States period (403-222 BC), preoccupied with the nature of human consciousness within a material world. He told of a dream in which he imagined himself as a butterfly, but on waking could not decide whether he really had become the butterfly or whether it was the butterfly
who had now taken on his form. What was the distinction between dream and reality, the nature of individual consciousness?
There are several paintings by Eishi showing a courtesan seated leaning on a Chinese writing-table, on which there is always a vase of peonies, looking up at a butterfly (or butterflies), and it is clear that these were intended as a parody ('mitate') of Zhuang Zhi's dream. It is doubtful if any searching philosophical meaning were intended, however; as with so many 'mitate' reworkings, this simply seems to have been one more unusual setting in which to paint a courtesan. Here she wears an elaborate surcoat decorated with hanging coloured wisteria blooms and a green brocade 'obi' with a design of water-wheels and the trailing leaves of the aquatic candock plant ('kohone'). The title of the book on the desk reads 'Kogetsushu', perhaps a variant on 'Kogetsusho', which was a famous commentary on 'Tale of Genji' published in 1673, and the poem which the woman has just copied on to the tasselled slip in her hand is by the Monk Saigyo from the 'Shin kokinshu' anthology: 'Yoshinoyama/kozo no shiori no/michi kaete/mada minukata no/ hana o tazunemu' ('Last year, Yoshino,/I walked away bending branches/To point me to the blossoms - /Which now are everywhere and I can/Go where I've never been before'. William LaFleur (trans.), 'Mirror for the Moon', New York, New Directions, 1977, p. 75).
Though the composition is taken from Eishi, the figure style is not quite his and difficult to place. The high, pointed 'yoko-hyogo' hairstyle suggests the decade after Utamaro's death in 1806.
'(Hizo) Ukiyo-e taikan' ('Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collections'), ed. Narazaki Muneshige. Vol. 1, Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987, no. 128.
- Not on display
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Kogetsusho (commentary on 'Tale of Genji' published in 1673)
- 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.1425 (Japanese Painting Number)