Chōkōsai Eishō 鳥高斎栄昌 (active c. 1795-1801)
The Courtesan Someyama of the Matsubaya Brothel
(Matsubaya Someyama 松葉屋染山)

From the series Contest of Beauties in the Gay Quarters
(Kakuchū bijin kurabe 郭中美人競)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1795-1801
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1959

During the late 18th century, Katsukawa Shunkō I (1743-1812), who specialized in portraits of Kabuki actors, began to crop his images quite dramatically, filling the entire print with a careful study of his subject’s head and upper torso. In the early 1780s, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) applied this style of portraiture, designated as ōkubi-e (literally, “big head pictures”) to his studies of courtesans in the Yoshiwara.

Since women’s fashion in the pleasure quarter was undergoing a major transformation at that time, Utamaro’s ōkubi-e were phenomenally well-received, and soon a number of other artists were helping to spread the fame of these courtesans, with their outrageously elaborate hairstyles, throughout the country. In doing so, Utamaro influenced women’s ideas about fashion, beauty and sexuality in much the same way as the 1813 text Traditions of Fashion and Cosmetics in the Capitol (Miyako fūzoku kewai den) by Hayami Shungyōsai (1767-1823), on display elsewhere in this exhibition.

Chōkōsai Eishō, a contemporary of Utamaro, here reveals Utamaro’s influence upon his own work through an ōkubi-e portrait of the courtesan Someyama of the Matsubaya Brothel with her hair tied in a hyōgo-wage bun.

View info on museum database (enabled through support by the Robert F. Lange Foundation)