Enlarge Image

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

Monk Kisen, from the series Six Poetic Immortals
approx. 1770–1829, by Chobunsai Eishi (Japanese, 1756–1829)
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

Eishi created other series likening modern beauties to the "Six Poetic Immortals," but in this sophisticated set he pairs groups of figures with famous verses and creates settings linked to the imagery of the poems. Here a middle-class young lady appears on an excursion to Uji, a district renowned for its beautiful autumn foliage. The waka poem written above is by the ninth-century Buddhist monk and poet Kisen:

Wago io wa
miyako no tatsumi
shika zo sumu
yo o Ujiyama to
hito wa iu nari

To the southeast of the capital
I live in my thatched hut.
The world is bleak, they say,
Gloomy as the name of these Uji hills.

The poem plays on the similarity of the place name Uji to the word ushi, "gloomy" or "bleak." The imagery evokes a solitary life of reclusion — to which Eishi's much cheerier scene provides a sharp contrast. In this modern reworking the visitor's youthful costume consists of a furisode with cherry blossom decoration and an obi patterned with peony sprays. Holding a small tobacco pipe tied with a red bow, she turns back to converse with two companions, a young girl and a maid, both wearing simple striped kosode. A few landscape details provide the appropriate setting: a maple tree, scattering its leaves; a stream coursing over some rocks; and two deer, another symbol of autumn, posed on hills across a mist-filled expanse. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.89

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.