Kunisada: A Woman Performing the Tea Ceremony 茶の湯

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Title: A Woman Performing the Tea Ceremony 茶の湯
Series: Twenty-four Aspects of Beautiful Women (Niju shiko Imayo bijin)
Date: 1863

A beauty kneels, her face composed and serene, as she gently touches the handle of her bamboo tea whisk, her every movement carefully choreographed and deliberate. She is performing (or practicing) the Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu, which is said to take ten years of study to fully master, although she is probably preparing to host an informal gathering here. The various implements for the 37 steps of the tea ceremony are shown around her, and she kneels before the fire pit containing the kettle 釜 (kama) for boiling the water. We see the lid for the kettle resting to the woman’s left atop its stand. The small red container must be a tea caddy (natsume) with the tea scoop 茶杓 (chashaku) resting atop it. On the large container in the  foreground is printed the artist’s toshidama seal and inset within the cartouche at top is an image of a tea bowl and  the ceremonial folding fan, the sensu 扇子, which is never opened during the ceremony. There are surprisingly few images of persons engaging in the formal tea ceremony in ukiyo-e; according to many sources, women did not even engage in the practice until the Meiji period (1868-1912). That would make this 1863 print an early visual documentation of women’s participation in the tea ceremony.

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Untrimmed and unbacked.
Dimensions: ôban (37.5 x 25 cm)
Publisher: Iseya Kanekichi
Seal: Toshidama
Signature: Ôju Toyokuni ronin hitsu