Enlarge Image

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

Night Rain, from the series Fashionable Eight Views of Shinagawa
1776–1781, by Isoda Koryusai (Japanese, active approx. 1764–1788)
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

The "eight views," or hakkei, theme is distantly derived from the Chinese literary subject "Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers." Japanese versions appear as early as the seventeenth century, in the popular set of "Eight Views of Ōmi" (Ōmi hakkei), and in 1765, Harunobu transposed the eight views to Yoshiwara brothels in the mitate series Eight Parlor Views . The rage for sets like these continued until around 1780, as the formula was applied to other locales in and around Edo. Koryūsai alone produced fortyone "eight views" series during this period.

Only two prints survive from his Fashionable Eight Views of Shinagawa, which features unlicensed prostitutes from an area down the coast from Edo. In "Night Rain," a seated figure wearing a simple but chic gauze checked robe over a red lining reads a love letter from a long paper scroll. Her standing companion models more formal attire: her kosode, decorated with butterflies hovering above slender iris stalks, is tied with a stylish obi of cut velvet fabric decorated with motifs from the Chinese "eight treasures." Paper crumpled carelessly in a heap between the women suggests displeasure with their correspondents. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection , 2005.100.40.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.