• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1978

    Japanese And Korean Art

    18 March 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 139

    Chobunsai Eishi (1756-1829)

    Beauty writing a poem on a fan

    Price Realised  


    Chobunsai Eishi (1756-1829)
    Beauty writing a poem on a fan
    Signed Eishi zu and sealed Kaei, the poem transcribed Yomo Sanjin Magao (Yomo no Utagaki Magao: 1753-1829) sho and with kao (ogi tomoe)
    Hanging scroll; ink, color and gold on silk
    25 x 18 7/8in. (63.5 x 48cm.)
    Box lid signed, titled and authenticated by Narazaki Muneshige (1904-2001)

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    A courtesan seated on a small mat is poised to inscribe a poem on a decorated folding fan. The Chinese characters for pine, bamboo and plum (shochikubai), a trio of plants associated with the New Year, are embroidered and dyed on her sumptuous black outer robe.


    Hanadori no
    irome nokorazu
    Nimotsumo sazona
    haru no yamauba

    Yomo Sanjin Magao sho

    [By the poet] Shokaen

    Since she brings with her
    all the colors and songs
    of every flower and bird,
    in spring Yamauba's
    pack must be ever so heavy.
    Calligraphy by Yomo Sanjin Magao

    The poem has been transcribed by Yomo no Utagaki Magao (1753-1829), a noted Edo poetry master and author of light fiction. He studied kyoka (31-syllable witty verse) under Shokusanjin (Ota Nanpo; 1749-1823), who had earlier in his career used the pen name Yomo Sanjin (Literatus of all directions). Though Magao incorporated the name Yomo into his pen name, and regularly used it for the rest of his career, he rarely styled himself Yomo Sanjin, as here. Perhaps he used this combination of pen names at the special request of the poet Shokaen (Garden of pines and flowers) who apparently asked his poetry teacher to inscribe one of his own poems on the painting by Eishi. Nothing is known about Shokaen, though a kyoka of his is found in the 1795 edition of the anthology Yomo no haru (Spring in all directions), which was compiled by Magao for the Yomogawa poetry group.

    Magao writes in a rather elaborate, overly florid style. The last character of the inscription is hard to decipher, and depending on how one reads it, the last word of the poem can be read as yamauba (mountain hag), a reference to a character in the Noh play, or as yamahime (mountain princess).

    Yamauba is the legendary old woman who cares for the mountains, decking them with snow in winter, blossoms in spring and moonlight in autumn. In her pack she carries seasonal foliage and birdsong, a much lighter load in winter than in spring. The name Yamauba literally means an old woman living in the mountains and connotes a creature on the periphery of society. In medieval Japanese literature she was sometimes portrayed as a white-haired, flesh-eating female demon. By the Edo period she was shown as a more nurturing figure, a beautiful woman who dotes on her son, Kintaro, a young boy with great strength. In the puppet play Komochi Yamauba by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Yamauba begins as a courtesan Yaegiri.

    Magao's handwritten red seal is in the shape of a fan exclosing a triple comma (ogi tomoe). The same emblem appears as decoration on the courtesan's black lacquer writing box. It is probably no coincidence that this is also the emblem of a sake shop, the Yomoya [Kyubei], in Edo. In legend Yamauba is also associated with a sake vendor who flourished after her modest purchase from the shop. One might speculate that the shop owner commissioned the portrait of this beauty. Certainly the poet, painter, shopowner and courtesan would have been on intimate terms.

    For another example of Magao's collaboration with the ukiyo-e artists Ikkei and Kuninaga, see lots 138 and 143.

    This painting is a masterpiece by an artist noted for his elegant compositions.


    Motoyama Toyomi


    Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art, "Shomin geijutsu no hana--Nikuhitsu ukiyoe ten" (Flower of popular art--Exhibition of ukiyo-e painting), 1981.9.12--10.14

    Itabashi Art Museum, "Nikuhitsu ukiyoe meisaku ten" (Exhibition of masterpieces of ukiyo-e painting), 1989.4.8--5.7

    Kushigata Shunsen Museum, Kushigata, "Ukiyoe no hana/kenran taru nikuhitsu no sekai--Nikuhitsu ukiyoe meisaku ten" (Flower of ukiyo-e/Gorgeous world of paintings--Exhibition of masterpieces of ukiyo-e painting), 1995.4.29--6.25

    Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art, ed., Shomin geijutsu no hana--Nikuhitsu ukiyoe ten (Flower of popular art--Exhibition of ukiyo-e painting) (Chiba: Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art, 1981), pl. 30.

    Itabashi Art Museum, ed., Nikuhitsu ukiyoe meihin ten (Exhibition of masterpieces of ukiyo-e painting) (Tokyo: Itabashi Art Museum, 1989), pl. 87.

    Sadamura Tadashi, ed., Ukiyoe no hana/Kenran taru nikuhitsu no sekai--Nikuhitsu ukiyoe meisaku ten (Flower of ukiyo-e/Gorgeous world of paintings--Exhibition of masterpieces of ukiyo-e painting) (Tokyo: Bun'yusha, 1995), pl. 42.