Courtesan beneath a Mosquito Net

Maker(s)
Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1864)
Calligrapher: Honda Jinzaburo (1781-1861)
Historical period(s)
Edo period, 1855
Medium
Ink and color on silk
Dimensions
H x W (image): 101.5 x 38.5 cm (39 15/16 x 15 3/16 in)
Geography
Japan
Credit Line
Purchase — Harold P. Stern Memorial Fund
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1995.17
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Painting
Type

Hanging scroll

Keywords
courtesan, Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, kakemono, ukiyo-e, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

Private collection, Japan [1]

To 1995
Mayuyama & Co. Ltd., Tokyo, to 1995

From 1995
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Mayuyama & Co. Ltd. in 1995

Notes:

[1] This object was offered in auction at Christie's, New York in 1994 and failed to sell; it was returned to its owner in Japan and remarketed through Mayuyama and Co. (see Curatorial Note 3, James Ulak, December 1995, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s)

Mayuyama & Co., Ltd.

Label

This scene of a courtesan emerging from beneath a mosquito net as her cat returns her gaze alludes to a well-known episode from the eleventh-century literary work The Tale of Genji. Prince Genji’s wife, the Third princess, was concealed from public view, as was the custom among women of high status. When her cat pushed aside a bamboo blind, however, the Third princess was revealed to the courtier Kashiwagi, and thus began a secret affair between the two. Mitate (incongruous comparisons between courtly literature and modern urban life) were a popular visual device in Edo art.


Inscribed at the top of the painting is a poem by Honda Jinzaburo (1781–1861), whose pen name was Tenmei Rojin. The poem alludes to the source of mosquito nets—the vendors from Omi near Lake Biwa—and to the trysts of courtesans beneath the netting on steamy summer nights.

No matter whom
the maiden meets
under the omi net,
her arm shows the mark
of a mosquito’s stinger.

Translation by John Carpenter

Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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