• Japanese & Korean Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 2296

    Japanese & Korean Art

    24 March 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 618

    Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-89)

    Hell Courtesan (Jigoku dayu)

    Price Realised  

    Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-89)
    Hell Courtesan (Jigoku dayu)
    Signed Seisei Kyosai ga, sealed Kyosai and with a demon figure
    Hanging scroll; ink, color, silver and gold on silk
    58 5/8 x 27½in. (149 x 70cm.)


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    A beautiful courtesan glances over her shoulder at a macabre scene of merrymaking skeletons. With her right hand, she pulls her ornate outer robe around her, and with the left she gestures toward the evocative moon and autumn grasses painted on a standing screen. Her silk robe is decorated with emblems of wealth and good fortune: Gods of Good Luck, lucky coral, jewels and long-life symbols. By contrast, there are a few Buddhist elements on her obi: a demonic guardian of hell stands behind Hotei, who is cast in the role of the bodhisattva Jizo, descending to hell as protector of children. She is the Hell Courtesan (Jigoku dayu), made famous in Edo-period legends associated with the monk Ikkyu. She was immortalized in numerous color woodcuts and ukiyo-e paintings in the nineteenth century and Kyosai himself did several of variations on this composition. For six other paintings of the Hell Courtesan attributed to Kyosai or bearing his signature, see Narazaki Muneshige, ed., Nikuhitsu ukiyo-e (Ukiyo-e paintings in color), vol. 10 (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1983), p. 73, figs. 10--16.

    The Hell Courtesan is intimately linked with the eccentric Zen priest and poet Ikkyu (1394-1481), abbot of Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto. Ikkyu, who famously found virtue in the midst of vice, claimed to have spent ten years in the brothels of Sakai, a port city in the southern part of what is now Osaka Prefecture, and today bordering on Osaka City. By the seventeenth century there were hundreds of apocryphal Ikkyu stories in circulation, including one that he befriended a prostitute named Jigoku (Hell) in the Takasu-cho section of Sakai and led her to achieve enlightenment.

    In this painting, Kyosai shows Ikkyu dancing with total abandon on the head of the skeleton of a courtesan playing a samisen. Smaller skeletons, one holding the skeletal ribs of a folding fan, parade around the Hell Courtesan in a kind of conga line. The iconography originated with an illustration by Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825) in the Jigoku story in chapter 7 of Honcho suibodai zenden (Complete accounts of drunken enlightenment in our country), a popular book by the writer and ukiyo-e artist Santo Kyoden (1761-1816) published in 1809. In Kyoden's story, Ikkyu enters the brothel and begins to eat fish and drink sake, behavior forbidden to a monk. Thinking that he might be a quack monk and not the well-known Ikkyu, the courtesan orders dancers and singers to entertain him. From the next room, she peers through a screen and is astonished to see Ikkyu dancing with skeletons. When she reenters the room, all is normal again. She is convinced that he is no ordinary man. The reader is reminded of a saying attributed to Ikkyu: "Remember that under the skin you fondle lie the bones, waiting to reveal themselves" (Gaikotsu [Skeleton], 1457).

    Around 1845, Toyokuni's student, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), designed a color woodcut diptych of the same theme, with a lengthy moralizing text cartouche. The commentary cautions against hoarding gold and silver and wealth and advises that form is emptiness and expedient means are needed to open our eyes to this truth. "When the eye of the intellect attains awareness of this human state, it is like partying among a gathering of skeletons."

    The Hell Courtesan, a fallen woman, attains redemption with the aid of a quirky Buddhist monk. The possibilities for parody appealed to Kyosai.

    Provenance

    Ono Shichizo


    Literature

    Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, ed., Seitan hyakugojusshunen kinen: Kawanabe Kyosai ten (150th anniversary of his birth: Kawanabe Kyosai exhibition) (Tokyo: Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, 1981), pl. 4.

    Genshoku ukiyoe daihyakkajiten henshu iinkai, ed., Sakuhin 4 Hiroshige--Kiyochika (Works 4 Hiroshige--Kiyochika), vol. 9 of Genshoku ukiyoe daihyakkajiten (Encyclopedia of ukiyo-e in full color) (Tokyo: Taishukan shoten, 1981), pl. 208.

    Narazaki Muneshige, ed., Meisakusen (Selection of masterpieces), vol. 10 of Nikuhitsu ukiyoe (Ukiyo-e paintings) (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1983), pl. 36.

    Asahi Shinbunsha, ed., Sakikaoru Edo no joseibi: Nikuhitsu ukiyoe meisaku ten (The blooming and fragrant beauty of Edo women: Exhibition of masterpieces of ukiyo-e paintings) (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1984), pl. 60.

    Mainichi Gurafu (Mainichi Graphic) (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha) (July--August, 1984): front cover.

    Nakau Ei, ed., Ukiyoe hyakunin hyakushu (Ukiyo-e--one hundred people, one mind) (Toyo: Sojusha Bijutsu shuppan, 1984), p. 153.

    The Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki, ed., Botsugo hyakunen kinen: Kawanabe Kyosai ten (100th anniversary of his death: Kawanabe Kyosai exhibition) (Ibaraki: The Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki, 1989), pl. 48.
    Ono Shichizo, Kawanabe Kyosai: Itsuwa to shogai (Kawanabe Kyosai: Life and anecdotes) (Tokyo: Kindai bungeisha, 1994), cover illustration.


    Exhibited

    Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, Tokyo, "Seitan hyakugojusshunen kinen: Kawanabe Kyosai ten" (150th anniversary of his birth: Kawanabe Kyosai exhibition), 1981.11.1--24

    "Sakikaoru Edo no joseibi: Nikuhitsu ukiyoe meisaku ten" (The blooming and fragrant beauty of Edo women: Exhibition of masterpieces of ukiyo-e paintings), shown at the following venues:

    Matsuzakaya Department Store, Nagoya, 1984.1.4--11
    Shinbashi Sogo Department Store, Osaka, 1984.1.27--2.8
    Nihonbashi Tokyu Department Store, Tokyo, 1984.2.17--29
    Shijo Takashimaya Department Store, Kyoto, 1984.4.19--5.1

    The Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki, "Botsugo hyakunen kinen: Kawanabe Kyosai ten" (100th anniversary of his death: Kawanabe Kyosai exhibition), 1989.11.18--12.24


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