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

Courtesan playing with a cat
approx. 1705–1715, by Kaigetsudo Dohan (Japanese, active 1704–1716)
Woodblock print; ink on paper

A courtesan playfully dangles a tie-dyed hand towel, teasing the cat at her feet. This charming scene contains a sophisticated bit of product placement: the box on which she sits is labeled with the name of a confectionary shop, Masaruya, and its address in Asakusa Komagata-chō. Half-hidden behind her legs is the image of a Japanese macaque, the monkey (masaru) that is the shop's emblem.

Most of Dohan's prints are of standing courtesans, their forms defined by sweeping curves, calligraphic outlines, and bold patterns. Here, not only is the composition more complex but the three-dimensional rendering of the box lends the figure, balanced at its edge, an unusual degree of solidity. The costume too is especially gorgeous, patterned as it is with a swirling design of flowering myoga ginger and arabesques.

Two other copies of this print are known, one formerly in the Vever Collection, the other in the Art Institute of Chicago. The Chicago version has hand-coloring. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.6.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.