Kunisada: Hair Dyeing, Sewing, Washing Kimono--Flourishing Women of the Day
Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Title: Flourishing Young Woman of the Day (sakae-gusa toosei musume栄草当世娘)
Date: ca. 1830s
The series title “sakae-gusa” means “sakae”, flourishing and “gusa/kusa”, plants/seeds which grow into blooms, referring to a flourishing family and the numerous responsibilities placed on women to uphold these societal roles. The design features beautiful women who also represent the three culturally promoted responsibilities of young women of the day in the areas of production, culture and the running of the household.
Here Kunisada has chosen sewing, hair-dyeing, and kimono washing. In the center sheet a young woman kneels in front of a mirror and is applying a black hair dye in a practiced fashion using a comb. Next to her we see all the necessary hair utensils in the center of a cloth wrap. These include hair scissors, cords, a hairbrush, combs, and what looks like a small vial for hair oil. In front of the large mirror there is a package of what must be the hair-dye, “bi-gen-koo”, which was a famous brand of hair dye during Edo Period. She is looked at by the two women on either side. The woman on the right is busy sewing kimono. In front of her a white working cloth is spread out, on which are arranged a piece of cloth, a pair of scissors and a ruler. Next to her is her haribako, a portable chest for sewing items. On the left we see a woman with her sleeves tied back and her hair nicely covered who is washing kimono on a low stool. Outside we see the fruits of her labor--various parts of the kimono that have been undone for washing are here spread on the drying board to dry. To the right, we can also peep into the next room, which shows a glimpse of a hibachi fire place, teacup and teapot. One smoking pipe lies on the floor.
Kunisada designed another triptych in the same series (published by Izumi-ya) that shows sericulture, calligraphy and smoothing cotton. This series is considered to be educational for young women of the time as well as an excuse to show beautiful women bijin-ga in idealized states of beauty. It is also interesting to see a woman from a previous century and from an isolated culture laboring to uphold the beauty standards surrounding hair that many modern women can still very much relate to.
Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. Some areas of skinny wormage. Untrimmed and unbacked.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (37.7 x 77.4 cm)
Signature: Kôchôrô Kunisada ga