Kuchibeni

This painting is a half-length portrait (okubi-e) of a type made popular by Japanese print artists such as Sharaku (fl. 1794-95), who focused on actors of the kabuki theater, and Utamaro (1754-1806), who specialized in portraits of women. An alluring courtesan is portrayed in the act of blotting her upper lip on a roll of letter paper. Her parted lips just reveal her teeth, blackened with an iron pigment that causes the teeth to recede into the shadows. The suggestive focus on her lips, which are made up in the contrasting red and green fashionable at the time, recalls the practice of seppun, or kissing, which was then regarded as a novel erotic technique. The overt eroticism of her expression is heightened by her sidelong gaze directly toward the viewer.

Maker(s)
Artist: Gion Seitoku (?-1827)
Historical period(s)
Edo period, 1801-1804
Medium
Ink and color on paper; wood/lacquer jiku
Dimensions
H x W (image): 63.6 × 41 cm (25 1/16 × 16 1/8 in)
Geography
Japan
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1997.11
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Painting
Type

Hanging scroll

Keywords
actor, courtesan, Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, kabuki, kakemono, okubi-e, portrait, theater, ukiyo-e, woman, WWII-era provenance, yakusha-e
Provenance
Provenance research underway.
Description

This painting is a half-length portrait (okubi-e) of a type made popular by Japanese print artists such as Sharaku (fl. 1794-95), who focused on actors of the kabuki theater, and Utamaro (1754-1806), who specialized in portraits of women. An alluring courtesan is portrayed in the act of blotting her upper lip on a roll of letter paper. Her parted lips just reveal her teeth, blackened with an iron pigment that causes the teeth to recede into the shadows. The suggestive focus on her lips, which are made up in the contrasting red and green fashionable at the time, recalls the practice of seppun, or kissing, which was then regarded as a novel erotic technique. The overt eroticism of her expression is heightened by her sidelong gaze directly toward the viewer.

Inscription(s)

1. (Ann Yonemura, 6 March 199) This painting is signed "Heian Seitoku sha" ("painted by Seitoku of Kyoto"), followed by two square seals. The upper seal, in intaglio style, reads "Seitoku no in." The lower seal, in relief style, reads "azana [ga] Hakuryu [to] iwaku" (pseudonym is Hakuryu). (see comment #1)

Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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