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painting / hanging scroll

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Painting, hanging scroll. Courtesan and attendant sampling incense on verandah: courtesan standing at corner of verandah, leaning against pillar and toying with hairpin; young attendant kneeling beside her offering up incense burner; in garden behind cherry tree in full bloom; lacquer box and tray and folded paper packet on tatami of open room. Ink, colour and gold on silk. Signed and sealed.

    [Jap.Ptg.1447] -
    [Jap.Ptg.1447, image (a)] -
    [Jap.Ptg.1447, image (b)] -
    [Jap.Ptg.1447, image (c)] -
    [Jap.Ptg.1447, image (T)] -
    [Jap.Ptg.1447, image (Ta)] -


  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1741-1751
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 88.9 centimetres
    • Width: 33 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        image, bottom right
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Transliteration

        Tsunemasa ga
      • Inscription Translation

        Picture by Tsunemasa
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

        image, bottom right
      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Transliteration

      • Inscription Comment

        In red.
  • Curator's comments

    Clark 1992

    A courtesan stands at the corner of a verandah, leaning against a pillar and toying with her hairpin, while a young 'shinzo' kneeling beside her offers up an incense burner for her mistress to sample the fragrance. In the garden behind a cherry tree is in full bloom. The accessories for preparing the incense - a lacquer box and tray and a folded paper packet - are arranged on the tatami of the open room.

    The 'incense guessing game' ('ko-awase') in which different aromatic woods were burnt and teams competed to identify the fragrance was a pastime dating back to the courtly Heian period (794-1185). Even though it does not appear to be a specific 'mitate' reworking of an historical theme, Tsunemasa's painting certainly plays on such courtly associations in what was to become an increasingly important trend in late eighteenth-century Ukiyo-e - the identification of Yoshiwara courtesans with the court women of Japan's classical past. Sampling incense was a favourite theme of Tsunemasa's paintings (compare, for instance, Sendai 1988, no. 34), and a woman standing on the corner of a verandah a favourite compositional device. The delicate figures, with their small, round faces and slender wrists, must have been an important stylistic precursor for the colour woodblock prints designed by Harunobu from 1765 to 1770.

    '(Hizo) Ukiyo-e taikan' ('Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collections'), ed. Narazaki Muneshige. Vol. 1, Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987, no. 112.Asahi 1996


    複数の香木を炊き、グループでその名を当てる「香合わせ」は、平安時代に遡る宮廷の遊びである。本図は歴史的な主題を現代風に焼き直した「見立」ではないようだが、常行は確実に宮廷生活を連想させようとしている。このように吉原の遊女を古典古代の宮廷の女性に見立てるという手法は、18世紀後半、浮世絵の重要な傾向になりつつあった。聞香は常行が好んだテーマであり(麻布美術館『麻布美術館蔵 肉筆浮世絵名品展』図録 1988年 34図)、縁先美人図は彼の好みの絵柄であった。小さな丸顔と細い腕を持った繊細な人物は、昭和2年(1756)から同7年(1770)にかけて晴信が描いた錦絵の様式の重要な先例となったに違いない。



  • Bibliography

    • Hizo Ukiyo-e taikan Vol 1 112 bibliographic details
    • Asahi 1996 36 bibliographic details
    • Clark 1992 46 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • 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.

  • Department


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Jap.Ptg.1447 (Japanese Painting Number)
Hanging scroll. Courtesan and attendant. Ink and colours on silk.

Hanging scroll. Courtesan and attendant. Ink and colours on silk.

Image description



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Object reference number: JCF5182

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