Kunisada: Fan Print of Beauty with Shamisen (Sold)

  • Sold.

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)
Title: Plucking Popular Songs in Those Days (Imayo ha-uta no tsuma-biki) 時世葉歌の爪弾
Date: 1856

Uchiwa-e; picture intended for a summer fan. Here we see a relaxed beauty  wearing loose layers of kimono and playing her shamisen instrument. She appears to be in the happy mood of spring, her singing inspired by the cherry blossoms in full bloom that we see outside of her window. She enjoys leisurely plucking with the plectrum of the shamisen and singing “ha-uta” (popular) songs.

The title “Ha-uta” 葉歌” is normally written 端歌, which indicates a certain category of popular songs accompanied by shamisen with short texts that are drawn from daily life.  Here however, the title葉歌 uses phonetically the same “ha“, referring to the title of the book of a collection of ha-uta songs, “Matsu no ha” 松の, which was published  in five volumes in 1703 by Shûshôken 秀松軒. It is said that this collection of songs was written and sung by the blind (who were often musicians by livelihood). Behind her lying on the window sill we see two ha-uta song books, one open and one closed.The last half of the title “tsuma-biki爪弾” translates “to pluck with fingers” instead of a plectrum, which is the usual way of playing the shamisen. 

Originally the shape of the uchiwa summer fan was quite round, but during development the shape seems to have been widened, most likely to make it more convenient for artists to use as their creative canvas. The uchiwa fan was one of the most important items of urban culture during the summer, as a sophisticated design reflected the taste of the owner; they were also gifted for special occasions as well as a space for advertisement for businesses. Designing prints for uchiwa was an important income source for ukiyo-e artists, and therefore a very high quality was required in order to stand out. Ukiyo-e subjects include beauties, Kabuki actors, and scenes related to the summer season. 

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Very clean and unfaded. There is an extra 1 cm strip of paper attached to top, but the fan print itself is not trimmed at the top.
Dimensions: 22.5 x 29.2 cm
Signature: Kochoro Kunisada ga
Publisher: Tsuji-ya Bunsuke