Scholten Japanese Art
Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867)
The Courtesan Chozan of the Chojiya in Edomachi Nichome
signed Kikugawa Eizan hitsu, with publisher's closed box seal I (Sanoya Kihei of Kikakudo), ca. 1806-08
13 3/8 by 9 1/2 in., 34 by 24 cm
A half-length portrait of a courtesan bundled up in multiple layers of robes holding an unfurled roll of paper with her inked brush tip poised to compose a letter or poem. In the background a folded fan displays her name, Chozan, and in the upper left the address and name of her house, Edomachi nichome, Chojiya.
While images of famous courtesans were fashion plates and an important part of the ukiyo-e market, the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters were beyond the reach for most of the male populace (and off limits to women except on certain holidays). Images of courtesans were more about the idea of beauty and the suggestion of an other-worldly fantasy than souvenir of an actual experience. As such, artists were not obliged to capture an individual courtesan's likeness, and adding to the ambiguity, professional courtesan names were associated with specific brothels and would be handed down to newcomers in a manner similar to kabuki names, further obscuring the identities of individual women.
Provenance: Gabrielle H. Grunebaum, Dobbs Ferry, New York (1910-2004)