This is Meiji-era recarving of a double plate “Courtesans of the Iedaya”, from the book “Mirror of Beautiful Women of the Pleasure Quarters (Seiro bijin awase sugata kagami),” vol. 1, a book originally published in 1776. The courtesans depicted here are Konoharu, Tamazusa and Shiratama. The book was jointly published by Tsutaya Jûzaburô and Yamazaki Kinbei, and jointly designed by Shigemasa and Shunshô; but it is not clear which artist was responsible for which illustrations.
The Woodblock Prints
The two book plates forming a diptych presented here are in excellent condition; the two plates have full margins and have not been affixed to each other. Each of them has the “middle” margin with a crease to it so it can be folded behind and framed next to its pair. Excellent color with no fading or discoloration, clean margins and clean versos.
About the Artists
Kitao Shigemasa (北尾 重政, 1739 – 1820) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist from Edo. He was one of the leading printmakers of his day, but his works have been slightly obscure.
Shigemasa was born the eldest son of bookseller Suharaya Mohei in 1739 in Nihonbashi area Edo (modern Tokyo). His family name was Kitabatake and his childhood name was Tarōkichi. Throughout his life he also used the personal names Kyūgorō and Sasuke, and work also appeared under the art names Hokuhō, Kōsuisai, Kōsuiken, Suihō Itsujin, and others.
Shigemasa taught himself art before becoming a student of Nishimura Shigenaga. His early works are bijin-ga (images of beautiful women) in the style of Suzuki Harunobu. From 1765 he began illustrating books, which became is main focus; over 250 are known. His work was published by more than twenty publishers, including Tsutaya Jūzaburō. A number of Shigemasa’s better-known works were collaborations with Katsukawa Shunshō: the print series Silkworm Cultivation (Kaiko yashinai gusa) beginning about 1772 and the illustrated book Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses (Seirō bijin awase sugata kagami) from about 1776.
Shigemasa founded the Kitao lineage of artists. Amongst his students were Kubo Shunman and Santō Kyōden. Shigemasa died in his 82nd year on the 24th day of the first month of 1820.
Shunshō Katsukawa (Japanese: 勝川 春章; 1726 – 1793) was a Japanese painter and printmaker in the ukiyo-e style, and the leading artist of the Katsukawa school. Shunshō studied under Miyagawa Shunsui, son and student of Miyagawa Chōshun, both equally famous and talented ukiyo-e artists. Shunshō is most well known for introducing a new form of yakusha-e, prints depicting Kabuki actors. However, his bijin-ga (images of beautiful women) paintings, while less famous, are said to be “the best in the second half of the [18th] century”.
Shunshō first came to Edo to study haiku and painting. He became a noted printmaker of actors with his first works dating from 1760. Though originally a member of the Torii school, he soon broke away and began his own style, which would later be dubbed the Katsukawa school. Among his students were the famous ukiyo-e artists Shunchō, Shun’ei, and Hokusai.