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The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection

A drunken beauty beneath cherry blossoms, from the series Contest of Modern Beauties of the
Pleasure Quarters

by Torii Kyonaga (Japanese, 1752–1815)
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

An excursion to view cherry blossoms forms the subject of this charming diptych, from the series Contest of Modern Beauties of the Pleasure Quarters. The scene pits a genteel middleclass beauty with two companions, against an inebriated courtesan whose unfettered antics are being kept under check by an entourage of three. Kiyonaga's beauties are uniformly tall, slender, and stylish, lined up in a row as if posing for a fashion spread in Vogue. Since they are out walking, each woman has a soft sash, known as a shigeki obi, tied around her hips to prevent her hem from trailing on the ground. Otherwise the costumes of the two main figures announce their differences in station. The demure girl on the right sports a pale yellow obi with a delicate arabesque pattern, and shells and sea plants decorate the long, trailing sleeves and skirt of her youthful violet (now brown) furisode. By contrast, the courtesan's dramatic black kosode flaps open to reveal the bare white flesh of her chest and legs. Loosely tied at the front of her body, her strumpet's obi bears a bold hexagonal pattern. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.67.b.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.