Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889)
To Hell and Back Sex and death: front-burner biological exigencies for all of us, and usually not fodder for humour. Japanese culture, oddly enough, abounds with themes linking prostitution, death, and religion; and, starting in the Edo period (1615-1868), artists often treated them with wry wit. Bodhidharma (Daruma), the legendary First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, is pictured in the company of a prostitute with whom he exchanges clothes. The saintly Priest Saigyo (1118-90) appears in legend coupled with the courtesan Eguchi no Kimi, who turns out to be a manifestation of the bodhisattva Fugen. Indeed some forms of Tantric Buddhism advocated sexual intercourse as a means of extinguishing one's separate illusory existence and merging with the divine. Here, Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481), son of an emperor, 47th abbot of the great Zen temple Daitokuji, and one of the most venerable - if eccentric - priests in the history of medieval Buddhism, is shown dancing riotously atop the shamisen-strumming skeleton of a brothel entertainer.1 A sumptuously-robed geisha standing before a screen turns to look over her shoulder at the spectacle. Tiny skeletons vivid against a dim background dance with abandon around the woman; two seem disposed to peep under her hemline. In additional humourous touches, the instrument, stripped of its skin, reveals the skeleton of the musician behind it, and the ribs of the paperless fans look like phantasmagoric extensions of the dancers' fingers. By the Edo period, crazy stories about Ikkyu abounded. A lover of sake and bordellos despite his monastic commitment, he seems to have been fixated on skeletons as mementi mori: according to one tale, during a New Year's parade Ikkyu is said to have waved a human skull at the crowds lining the streets of the celebration. In 1457 he wrote a collection of poem-sermons entitled "Skeletons" (Gaikotsu), warning believers of the transitory nature of life. The present picture is based on a kabuki play entitled Jigoku Ikkyu banashi [the Story of Ikkyu and Jigoku], adapted from a piece of comic literature and performed in 1865.2 According to the plot, Ikkyu enters a brothel and meets the ironically-named courtesan Jigoku ["Hell"]. As he dances with brothel inmates Jikoku peeps from behind a screen and to her astonishment sees that Ikkyu's comely entertainers have shriveled to their bare bones. The vision vanishes when she rejoins the group. The moral: beneath even the most glittering facade lurks inevitable death. Jigoku finds enlightenment with this graphic demonstration of human impermanence. Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-89), prodigiously gifted, prolific, and celebrated, dominated the latter half of 19th century Japanese painting as decisively as Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) had its first half. Both possessed an intense, relentless energy that left a stamp on every image they touched; both exhibited a trenchant wit; and both turned their attention to an overwhelming plethora of subjects and formats. Both men used the character kyo [crazy] in their names and sketched madly as if their life depended on it. If anything, Kyosai, who had been trained in ukiyo-e and traditional Kano-School painting techniques as well as the decorative Rimpa style, treated an even broader scope of stylistic/thematic material. His imagery ranged from traditional flower-and-bird subjects, religious pictures, historical works, frolicking animals, portraits, warriors, genre, folklore, and comic pictures to subjects unknown to Hokusai, such as Aesop's fables, foreigners, and issues surrounding the tumultuous ruptures that attended the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Kyosai delighted in unexpected juxtapositions of traditional themes, such as his whimsical Hawk [Chinese flower-and-bird subject] Chasing the Wind God [a distinctly Japanese theme].3 But Hokusai lived to the ripe old age of 89, whereas Kyosai, alas, was cut down at 58 by stomach cancer - the result of alcoholism. One yearns to see what Kyosai's late great period would have been. Kyosai was celebrated for certain themes, among which hell, prostitutes, and demons/ghosts figure prominently. Clients seeing one version of a given subject sometimes requested a similar painting. In addition to this work, at least six other hanging scrolls of the Hell Courtesan exist,4 as well as a number of woodblock prints. Each version has pronounced differences. This one is extraordinary. The background shows two panels of a monochrome landscape screen with a flying bird and the tip of a tree branch reminiscent of Kano painting. Brothels often displayed such screens to furnish a whiff of high culture. The courtesan is rendered in pure ukiyo-e style. Kyosai, fascinated with elaborate textiles, is said to have followed a samurai's wife down a street for several blocks so he could sketch her sash.5 Here Jigoku's obi features a wondrous conflation of Hotei (one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, whose name means "Hemp Bag") with the bodhisattva Jizo, who ferries the souls of dead children across the Japanese River Styx. Hotei's great bag containing the treasures he loved to distribute to children is comically tied under his chin in a manner designed to mimic Jizo's halo; he carries Jizo's attributes - a staff and a lucky jewel -- in his hands. Children pile up more lucky jewels (instead of the customary stones) along the riverbank, while a frustrated demon gestures in eloquent exasperation. In the background the roofline of the palace of the Western Paradise Buddha beckons. The minions of Hell have been defeated. Jigoku's elaborate outer robe sports two more Lucky Gods: in a parody of traditional Hell scenes, the phallus-headed Fukurokuju dictates from a scroll noting sinners' biographies, while Jurojin, another god of longevity, stands in for Enma (King of Hell) and records their misdeeds. With a hilarious bow to modernity, Kyosai furnished Jurojin with tinted glasses to protect his eyes from the flaming drum, decorated with a green dragon and the Three Buddhist Jewels. Another clever conflation of Heaven and Hell appears in the flame-like forms reminiscent of the inferno's licking fires - closer inspection reveals that they are branches of precious coral, mentioned in Buddhist sutras as accouterments of Paradise. The painting bears the signature Joku Kyosai, a name he used after 1885.6 A rare letter by Kyosai's daughter responding to queries from the British architect Josiah Conder (1852-1920) about its authenticity accompanies the work. Dated 1890 it states that she helped her father apply the colours and that the picture was ordered by a "man in Yoshiwara." At some point the work entered the possession of William Anderson (1842-1900), a British surgeon in Japan and major early collector of ukiyo-e.7 Conder may have acquired it from Anderson; it is published in a 1942 Danish sales catalogue of objects belonging to Conder.8 Conder went to Japan in 1877 as part of the Meiji modernization program. He taught architecture and urbanism at what would become Tokyo University and worked for the Ministry of Engineering. Much of the look of the Meiji urban scene so familiar from woodcuts and photographs derives from Conder's influence. Among the important buildings he designed are the Tokyo Imperial Museum (now the Tokyo National Museum) and the Rokumeikan ("Deer Cry Pavilion"), where Japanese could hold formal balls and other Western-style festivities. Conder had a special relationship with Kyosai. He gave Kyosai a Western anatomical book whose skeletons Kyosai copied.9 Not only did he socialise and study painting with the artist, Conder was holding Kyosai's hand as the master finally entered that nether realm he had so vividly pictured in life.10 1. For an extended discussion of the theme see catalogue entry by Julia Meech in Arts of Japan: The John C. Weber Collection, edited by Melanie Trede with Julia Meech and the assistance of Anton Schweizer and Mio Wakita, (Berlin, 2006), 192-93 2. Clark, Timothy, Demon of Painting: The Art of Kawanabe Kyosai, (London, 1993), 101 3. Israel Goldman Collection, reproduced Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum, Kawanabe Kyosai no giga, kyoga [Comic Genius: Kawanabe Kyosai], (Warabi City, Saitama Prefecture: Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum, 1996): catalogue 32. 4. Reproduced and discussed in Narazaki Muneshige, ed., Meisakuten (Selection of masterpieces), vol. 10 of Nikuhitsu ukiyo-e [Ukiyo-e paintings], vol. 10, (Tokyo, 1983), 72-73 5. Kawanabe Kyosai no giga, kyoga, 31 6. Clark, p. 102 7. Clark, p. 101 and Narazaki, p. 72 8. Doktor Josiah Conder's Samling af Japansk Kunst. Sale catalogue 1-3. (Copenhagen: Winkel and Magnussen Auctioneers, June 1942, no. 108), 29 and 35 9. Clark, p. 29. The copy is in the British Museum. 10. Ibid
Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889)

Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889)
Jigoku dayu [Hell Courtesan]
Hanging scroll, ink, colour and gold on silk, painted after 1885,
signed Joku Kyosai zu [Equal in Nothingness, painted by Kyosai] and sealed Kyosai gi kaku [painted by Kyosai for amusement], accompanied by a copy of the 1942 auction catalogue
127.7 x 70.2cm. (excluding mount) (2)
Mr and Mrs William Anderson
Josiah Conder
Purchased at auction, V. Winkel and Magnussen, Copenhagen, 1942, and
thence by descent to the present owner
Josiah Conder, Paintings and Studies by Kawanabe Kyosai: An Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings, Studies and Sketches, by the Above Artist, with Explanatory Notes on the Principles, Materials and Technique, of Japanese Painting, (Tokyo, 1911), illustrated plate I, and discussed page VII

Winkel and Magnussen, Copenhagen, Doktor Josiah Conder's Samling af Japansk Kunst, auction catalogue, 1st-3rd June 1942, Lot 108, illustrated p. 29

Narazaki Muneshige, ed., Meisakusen (Selection of masterpieces),
Nikuhitsu ukiyo-e, vol.10, (Tokyo, 1983), no.36, p.72-73

Timothy Clark, Demon of Painting: The Art of Kawanabe Kyosai,
(British Museum Press, 1993), p.101

Lot Essay

Conder commented at length about this painting in 1911:
"One of the master's most wonderful productions was a painting of the Jigoku-dayu.... It exhibits to a remarkable degree the painter's minute anatomical knowledge, his marvellous power of imparting life and vigorous action to lifeless forms; and also his scrupulous skill and patience in courting the greatest difficulties of technique by placing much of this delicate white fret-work of living bones against the gorgeously painted dress of the principal figure, and the decorated screen. There are several counterfeits of this painting, one of which has been illustrated....in the Kyosai gwa shiu."
Conder, 1911, p.VII

Accompanied by a translation in romaji of a letter addressed to
Conder in 1890, known to have been written by Kyosai's daughter, Toyo. The original of the letter is currently in a private collection. The letter states:
"This picture of Ikkyu visiting Jigoku Dayu's place, was drawn by my
father on request by a man in the Yoshiwara and I was helping the colouring next to him. Conder-kun purchased it and asked me about its authentication as there are many forgeries around. Since my father drew this painting only once in his lifetime, I can affirm that this painting is genuine and all others are fake. I am sending the letter to dispel Conder-kun's doubt."

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