Kunisada: Beauties Preparing for Bed

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada
Title: Courtesans Preparing for Bed
Date: ca. 1830

Three beauties seem to be preparing for bed, perhaps with guests who are hinted at but unseen here. The courtesan at left holds her all-purpose tissue paper in her mouth and seems to be about to hand a hanging robe to the beauty in the middle sheet, who crouches with her hands in a gesture of receiving an item. As the hanging robe at left is identical to the robe the leftmost beauty is already wearing, perhaps the seated woman must now change into her evening robe from her daytime one. The two robes at left have the pattern of “fukiyose,” meaning leaves gathered by the wind, in this case the leaves of the fall such as ginko, maple, and oak. A spider is a symbol of a good tidings messenger from the heavens, and its nets for catching favorable things such as good customers. On her loosened robe-tie chrysanthemum designs can be seen. 

The center beauty  wears a slightly different hair style and  sits in front of futon and a small chest with tea cups and a tobacco pipe. The chest has autumnal maple leaves as design. Separating the women we see the folding screens that were used as partitions in the living quarters of the courtesans. The center screen has designs of fallen pine needles and pine cones as well as stylized plum flowers and the one on the left features a bamboo design. These compose the symbol of happiness: pine, bamboo and plum “sho-chiku-bai.

Divided by wooden screen doors another beauty seems to check in on the other two as she walks towards her own sleeping area, also holding her packet of tissues. Her robe has design of pine cones, maple leaves and stylized plum blossoms. The screen in her room has the design of young pine branches. The seasonal theme for this print is autumn. 

To this non-scholar it seems that the women are about to get back to their unseen guests for the night. This would explain the prominent placement of the tissue packets (which can have erotic connotations in certain contexts) and the two cups glimpsed on the tray at middle as well as the feeling of having only a few hurried moments before they get back to their guests.

This also seems have the subtitle “From the Eight Scenes of Southeast of Edo” (Tatsumi hakkei no uchi). Fukagawa is located the direction of tatsumi, southeast of Edo and the pleasure quarters there was named tatsumi no sato. The subtitle is written in picture characters in green on white. The tatsumi geishas were known for their characteristic style with haori coat and bare feet and represented the geisha of Edo. The eight famous places in Fukagawa are: Eitai-Bridge, Tsukuda-Island, Tomigaoka Shrine, Suzaki Benten, Sanjûsangendô, Mokuba, Jûmantsubo, Mannen-Bridge.

Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. Some minor stains. Unbacked and untrimmed, with unfaded purple.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (37.4 x 77.4 cm)
Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizo
Signature: Kôchôrô Kunisada ga