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Three double-page illustrations from Yoshiwara picture book: Annals of the Green Houses (Seirō ehon nenjū-gyōji - 青楼絵本年中行事)

Identifier: 1850c Utamaro seiro ehon
Description:

Illustrated in color in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 11, p. 69.

Three double page illustrations from a mid-19th Century printing of the book originally published Spring, 1804:

  • Display-room of a house of pleasure at night
  • Debut of a shinzō - kyōka poem by Jippensha Ikku
  • Niwaka festival - kyoshi poem by Sanritei Toshi

Nenju-gyōji, one of Utamaro's famous illustrated books, has been discussed in all major reference works of the last one hundred years, more recently by Shugo Asano and Timothy Clark, in their beautiful catalog published on the occasion of the extensive Utamaro exhibition held at the British Museum and the Chiba City Museum of Art, in 1995.

Note that the examples in the British Museum catalogue are printed in color, which the example in the Smithsonian from the Pulverer collection are printed in only black and white. See the link above.

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The British Museum says that the original publisher was Kazusaya Chusuke (上総屋忠助); printed by Jukushōdō Tōemon (霍松堂藤右衛門); and the text and a couple of kyōka are by Jippenshu Ikku (十返舎一九).

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Also illustrated:

1) in a small black and white illustration in 浮世絵八華 (Ukiyo-e hakka), vol. 3 (Utamaro), Heibonsha, 1984, p. 77.

2) in black and white, half-page, in Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty by Julie Nelson Davis, University of Hawai'i Press, p. 131, #57. Davis wrote of this book and this particular scene on pages 127 and 129: "As dusk fell, the night's entertainments would begin in the Yoshiwara. Geisha would set up in the brothel parlours (harimise) visible from the street, tune their insturmants and begin playing. Courtesans who held the ranks below the yobidashi, such as the zashiki-mochi (suite-holder) and the heya-mochi (room-holder) and others, on duty that evening would process into the room, taking their seats all in a row, so that they might be viewed, and selected, by the passing clientele. Views of these women through the lattice are less often shown in a single-sheet prints, perhaps because seeing them on display made more visible their commodity status. These pictures appear more often in illustrated books about the quarter; Annual Events: A Picture Book of the Pleasure District (Seirō ehon nenjū gyōji) of 1804... More typically, sheet prints showed women of the higher ranks in elegant procession or on their way to an appointment; for these women, like the yobidashi... were not required to take up duty i the parlours. Here, by turning attention towards the ensuing private engagement between the patron and yobidashi, Utamaro's picture reinforces the illusions of romance and exclusivity that were stock-in-trade for the Yoshiwara. The encounter takes place outside the terms of economic transaction that are implied by views of the harimise; rather, the viewer as patron is granted the vision of singular beauty making her approach to their assignation."

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This edition in the Lyon Collection is from a late, posthumous printing. This is made obvious by looking at the deep purple aniline dye used. It is most obviously visible on the deep purple robe of the woman at the upper left of the on the right-hand side.

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