Arts of Asia


Standing Courtesan, 1775
Isoda Koryūsai (Japan, 1735–1790)
Woodblock print
25 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches
Gift of Class of 1908 1974-15-1

Isoda Koryūsai is best known for his work in two subjects: portrayals of "beautiful women" (bijin-ga) and depictions of "birds and flowers" (kacho-ga). Although born into the samurai or military nobility class, he abandoned his privileged status to pursue a career as an artist of ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world"), paintings and prints depicting landscapes, theatre scenes, and urban entertainment quarters. Though few details of Koryūsai's biography are known, it is thought that he studied with the ukiyo-e master Suzuki Harunobu (1724–1770); early in his career, Koryūsai signed himself "Haruhiro," using one character from Harunobu's name, a common sign of discipleship.

After Harunobu's death, Koryūsai emerged as a master of the erotic print, producing suggestive but relatively demure works such as this one, as well as more explicit images of the genre sometimes called abunae, or "dangerous prints." His hashirae, or "pillar prints," an exaggerated vertical format popular in the eighteenth century, are especially prized for their contrast of rich, powerful pigments with the soft, graceful curves of female figures in the yanagi-goshi or "willowy posture" associated with beauty and erotic allure.

The bijin-ga print exhibits the best of Koryūsai's talents. The voluptuous young woman steps from her bath onto the veranda of a tatami-matted room. She has yet to fasten her robe, reaching up first to adjust her kanzashi ("hair ornaments"). Adding to the sensuality of the subject is a gnarled budding and flowering plum tree in the background just beyond the veranda. The young woman refastens her elaborate, fashionable upswept taka shimada coiffeur with a stylishly carved tortoise-shell comb. The room, like the figure, is in slight disarray, with her tobacco pipe lying where it has fallen on the mat behind her. This mildly disheveled appearance was a common erotic theme in Edo-period (1603–1867) prints, a sign of the woman's accessibility or desirability.

Text by Ronald Toby, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008

  Subscribe Calendar Donate Contact